Voluntary assisted dying, also known as voluntary euthanasia, is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated for many years in Australia. In recent times, there has been a growing interest and discussion about the legal, ethical, and practical aspects of voluntary assisted dying in the country.
This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough overview of voluntary assisted dying, covering legal framework, eligibility and criteria, process and much more.
Legal framework for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
Western Australia passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying law in December 2019. The law came into effect in July 2021. There were many aspects in making sure that Western Australia was ready for when voluntary assisted dying became legally available.
The Department of Health had a dedicated project to ensure that voluntary assisted dying was implemented properly in Western Australia. The Act is highly detailed and this reflects the importance of ensuring that the operation of voluntary assisted dying in WA is safe and appropriate. The Act provides protections for individuals involved in the voluntary assisted dying process but also clearly articulates offences and circumstances that may be considered professional misconduct or unprofessional conduct. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Board, an independent statutory body created by the Act, can refer matters to various agencies including WA Police, the State Coroner, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), and the Director General of Health. The Director General of Health (as the CEO) has powers to investigate suspected breaches of the Act.
Eligibility and criteria for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia, there are strict criteria that must be met. These criteria are designed to ensure that only individuals who are genuinely suffering and near the end of life can access voluntary assisted dying.
Here is a comprehensive list of eligibility. A person is eligible if they:
- are aged 18 years or over;
- are an Australian citizen or permanent resident, who has been resident in Western Australia for at least 12 months when they first request voluntary assisted dying
- have decision-making capacity;
- are acting voluntarily and without coercion;
- have an enduring request for voluntary assisted dying (i.e. their request is ongoing); and
- have a disease, illness or medical condition that is:
- advanced and progressive
- expected to cause death within six months, or 12 months for a person with a neurodegenerative disease, illness or medical condition, and
- causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a way that the person finds tolerable. The person’s suffering may be physical or non-physical e.g. psychological, existential.
A person will not be eligible for voluntary assisted dying based on having a disability or mental illness alone – they must meet all of the criteria above.
Process of accessing voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
To access voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia, a person must be independently assessed by at least two medical practitioners who have completed mandatory training and meet other eligibility requirements. The person must make three requests: a first request, a written declaration, and a final request.
Voluntary assisted dying can be self-administered or administered by a practitioner, depending on consultation with the coordinating medical practitioner. In the case of self-administration, a Contact Person must be appointed with specific responsibilities, including the return of any unused substance. Practitioner administration can be carried out by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner who meets specific requirements.
Throughout the process, the person must be informed about various aspects of voluntary assisted dying, as well as their treatment and palliative care options.Voluntary participation, free from coercion, is fundamental to the process. The person can withdraw or revoke their involvement at any stage.
Health practitioners have the right to refuse participation in voluntary assisted dying for any reason, including conscientious objection. Health care workers must not initiate discussions or suggest voluntary assisted dying to individuals under their care, except for medical practitioners or nurse practitioners who also provide information about available treatment and palliative care options and their likely outcomes.
Safeguards and protections.
Voluntary assisted dying legislation in Western Australia includes a range of safeguards and protections to ensure that the process is carried out safely and ethically. The Act includes:
- Only qualified medical practitioners or nurse practitioners can discuss or suggest VAD, while providing information on treatment options and outcomes.
- Family members or caregivers cannot request VAD on behalf of someone else.
- People seeking VAD must receive information about their diagnosis, available treatments, palliative care options, and the risks associated with VAD medication, including the possibility of death.
- A person must make at least three separate requests for VAD, including an initial request, a written declaration, and a final request.
- The decision to choose VAD must be voluntary and free from coercion, with this requirement assessed throughout the process. If there are doubts about voluntariness, the person will be referred to an appropriate authority for evaluation.
- Individuals have the right to change their mind and withdraw their request for VAD at any time.
- Regulations are in place to govern the prescription, dispensing, and disposal of VAD medications.
- Good-faith assistance in accessing VAD or being present during its administration is protected from criminal liability.
- Health practitioners acting in accordance with the Act are protected from criminal and civil liability.
- Offences exist, punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment, for anyone who influences or induces another person to request or access VAD.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board is responsible for monitoring, reporting, and research.
In 2017, the Parliament of Western Australia formed a Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices to examine the need for legislation regarding end-of-life choices. The committee released its report, "My Life, My Choice," in August 2018, which included 52 findings and 24 recommendations. The report advocated for the development of a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill based on the principles of minimising unnecessary suffering and respecting individual autonomy.
Following the report, the Western Australian government instructed the Department of Health and the Department of Justice to draft legislation for voluntary assisted dying. To facilitate this process, a Ministerial Expert Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying was established in December 2018. The panel engaged in extensive public and expert consultations, receiving 541 submissions and involving 867 participants through various means.
In June 2019, the panel presented its Final Report to the Parliament, which led to the drafting of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019. The bill was introduced in August 2019 and underwent lengthy debates in both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. On December 10, 2019, the bill completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent on December 19, 2019. The Act came into effect in stages, with Part 1 effective immediately and the remaining sections proclaimed commenced on July 1, 2021.
Final thoughts on voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is a multifaceted and sensitive topic that involves various legal, ethical, medical, and societal considerations. It provides a compassionate option for individuals who are facing intolerable suffering and wish to have control over their own end-of-life decisions. However, it also raises concerns about potential risks, abuse, and ethical implications.
Ultimately, this should be approached respectfully as it can be a sensitive topic for many. Allowing people to die on their own terms means they can have a good death where their access to care and choices are respected. Furthermore, openly discussing death and dying can help prepare families for the passing and voluntary assisted dying can keep them more involved in the process, so they can ensure they’re close by for the final goodbye.
Part of being prepared for your end-of-life is planning for your funeral in advance with a Prepaid Funeral. If you’re interested in a Bare Prepaid Funeral, you can head to the link below for an instant quote for your area, or give our incredible Prepaid team a call on 1800 202 901.