Dying with dignity

The new Voluntary Assisted Dying bill introduced to WA parliament is designed to prevent families from suffering due to illness. Photo: Matthew Craig.

Supporters of people’s right to euthanasia have welcomed the McGowan Labor government’s new voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation unveiled earlier this month.

WA isn’t the first state to introduce such a bill. In June 2019, Victoria became the first state to make voluntary euthanasia legal following an 18-month implementation period. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 was passed by the Victorian Parliament in November 2017.

The WA bill has followed the release of the final report of a Ministerial Expert Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying. A 13 member expert panel headed by former state governor Malcolm McCusker made 31 recommendations which helped to guide the state government’s plan.

The WA bill states that voluntary assisted dying will only be available to a person who is:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • Terminally ill with a condition that is causing intolerable suffering
  • Likely to die within six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions
  • An Australian citizen or permanent resident
  • A WA resident for at least 12 months

Dinny Laurence is the campaign manager for Dying with Dignity WA, a local not-for-profit organisation founded in 1984.

Dinny Laurence (left) and her fellow DWDWA committee members preparing for a rally. Photo: DWDWA.

Having originally formed as a safe place to discuss euthanasia given the taboos around the subject, they now actively campaign for people’s right to euthanasia if palliative care is not enough to relieve their suffering.

DWDWA Volunteers protesting the legalisation of euthanasia in WA. Photo: DWDWA.

She understands that palliative care should be the first option, and the organisation is completely behind increasing funding to allow for greater assistance to those who need it.

“The issue shouldn’t be seen as a contest between voluntary assisted dying and palliative care.”

“The most important thing we’ve been doing is trying to engage the community. Of course the community doesn’t have a vote, it’s not a referendum. However the more support we can gather, the better our chances are of winning the vote in parliament,” she says.

State parliament is set to vote on the bill later this year. Photo: Ferran Feixas, Unsplash.

Ms Laurence describes the vote as the most important ethical issue that these members of parliament will vote on during their lifetime.

She is hopeful for an “open and respectful debate,” and hopes the issue comes to a vote before the end of the year.

Mr Peter Abetz, the director of ACL WA.

There are still hurdles to cross, with strong opposition to the bill coming from the Australian Christian Lobby.

“If people are not required to be in physical pain to qualify, then it is not difficult to imagine that people will be accessing the suicide drugs for other reasons,” says ACL WA Director Peter Abetz.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) of WA is also opposed to voluntary assisted dying and accused the government of rushing the process in a recent media release.

AMA WA headquarters located in Nedlands. Photo: Matthew Craig.

“It must be safe from day one and must not create temptations for government to save money on more expensive forms of compassionate care that are lacking at the moment. Urging the community to take plenty of time to consider this very important Bill is not alarmist,” says AMA WA president Dr Andrew Miller.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 will face a conscience vote by members of Parliament, which is currently scheduled for the remainder of the Parliamentary year.

Dinny Laurence is inspired to help others avoid the suffering her family did.