Euthanasia debate set to ramp up in WA

By Lindsay Brennan and Simon Orchard

Euthanasia laws in Western Australia are set to be reviewed after a historic bill was passed by the Victorian Parliament’s Lower House on Friday.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed after a grueling four-day sitting, in a move that could signal changes to the way people die around the country.

If legalised, terminally ill people over the age of 18, in severe pain and with only one year to live would have access to lethal drugs.

In the last 20 years, five bills on the subject were introduced to WA Parliament, however none made it through.

Mark McGowan

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he was a supporter of euthanasia, and would welcome a vote on the issue.

“My personal view is that I support voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, providing appropriate safeguards are in place,” he said.

“If legislation comes before the Parliament next year, put together by the Parliamentary committee, then WA Labor MPs will have a conscience vote on the matter.

“Any legislation needs to be carefully reviewed, and hence why a special select committee is best placed to carefully progress this matter.”

Palliative Care WA executive officer Lana Glogowski said if people knew the alternatives available to them, they might not be so supportive of euthanasia.

“Palliative care is about recognising life is limited, but working with individuals to make their experience as positive as possible. We don’t see euthanasia as part of what palliative care provides,” she said.

Palliative Care WA offered an Advanced Care Plan which enabled people to make decisions about future health care, treatment options, place of death, organ and tissue donation and management of assets.

“Less than five per cent currently access or know about this plan, ” she said.

Robin Chapple

Greens MP Robin Chapple, who championed a failed euthanasia bill in WA in 2010, described Friday’s events as a step in the right direction.

“[Today is] a historic and compassionate first step for Victoria and we’re hoping it will make it through the Upper House. WA Greens have tried twice to pass this through parliament here.”

The Australian Christian Lobby expressed disappointment that the state-sanctioned ‘assisted suicide legislation’ was passed.

ACL managing director Lyle Shenton said the group needed to “double efforts to make sure the Victorian Upper House rejects this legislation”.

“If we allow a regime where suicide becomes normalised and legal…that affects other people. What is autonomy to one person becomes coercion to another person,” he said.

“The Victoria legislation hasn’t specified which drug will be used and legal, or whether the drugs people take will provide a clean kill. I would encourage WA people not to make this mistake,” he said.

Mr Shenton also said palliative care could ensure the overwhelming majority of people died “with dignity, and pain free”.

Dying with Dignity WA president Murray Hindle was confident WA would see euthanasia legalised in the near future.

“We would hope to get a bill into parliament towards the end of next year,” he said.

“The general public have been polled on many occasions and the support is somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent,” he said.

“Dying with dignity is important because it’s not just terminal pain that makes people want to die. They get to the end of their life and think they’ve had a good life. Why go through something that’s inevitable,” he said.

The euthanasia debate is a polarising one.

The euthanasia debate is no more prevalent than in the home of one Perth man, who due to privacy issues, did not wish to be named.

“My dad euthanised around 20 months ago after a long battle with cancer,” the man said.

“I found him in his room after coming home from training. Finding him like that, it still hurts to this day.

“He had renal failure, couldn’t walk due to lack of breath and was house-bound for a long time. Both he and I had spoken in depth about euthanasia and how he wanted to go in peace.

“I remember he sent my mum out for lunch, then rang to see if I was OK, and that was the last conversation we had.

“We put our pets down to stop the suffering and to give them peace, but we put our parents and loved ones into homes to live without dignity.”

Ms Glogowski warned the decision to live or die should be made with a more sound level of knowledge and understanding than most people currently had.

“We are concerned about the fact people are making decisions without knowing there are other processes available,” she said.

If passed through the Upper House, Victoria will be the first Australian State to legalise euthanasia.