The West Australian
THE ESSENCE OF HUMANITY
Kate Law, Joondanna. Letter to The West Australian at 1.42pm yesterday
I watched my 73-year-old mother die in distress after a long battle with breast cancer that had spread to her bones, causing many of them to break and never properly heal.
I have seen firsthand that palliative care cannot alleviate all forms of pain, leaving the patient and their family in a horrifyingly helpless situation representative of a Third World predicament.
The memory of my mum writhing in pain and begging me not to let her die like this continues to haunt me.
Passing voluntary assisted dying legislation in WA and giving people a choice to end their lives peacefully is ...
It’s a plea for historic legal change whose fate may rest in the hands of as few as six undecided and largely unknown Upper House MPs. KPMG partner Kate Law’s heartfelt letter arrived on the eve of State Parliament’s first day of debate on long-promised voluntary assisted dying laws, which have been significantly diluted since first mooted and now contain 102 safeguards against abuse.
It will be the seventh time State MPs have considered legalising euthanasia, which advocate Andrew Denton says has the approval of up to 80 per cent of voters. It comes as hundreds of supporters, including former Test cricketer Adam Gilchrist, descended on Parliament to witness Belinda Teh’s final moments on her three million step march from Melbourne in support of the legislation.
The McGowan Government has watered down its promised voluntary assisted dying laws, adding new safeguards and limiting access to the regime as it seeks to push historic legislation through parliament.
Under laws unveiled yesterday, West Australians would have to show they were facing death from a terminal illness within six months in order to take their own lives — half the previously recommended timeframe.
The change would bring WA into line with rules in place in Victoria and help placate MPs fearful that the Government’s laws risked being criticised as the most liberal in Australia.
WA is also proposing to create a Voluntary Assisted Dying Board to monitor each step in a patient’s bid to take their own life.
The Government has dumped plans to allow nurse practitioners to take part in approving the assisted dying process — mandating doctors exercise oversight.
Under WA legislation, a patient would need to make two verbal and one written request to doctors to clear hurdles to take their own lives.
The entire process from the initial request to die to actually taking the lethal dose of medicine could be as short as nine days.
Two doctors would assess the request to die by the patient. One of those doctors would do a final review as the coordinating doctor.
A nurse practitioner would be able to administer the fatal medicine in the event the patient was not able to take it themselves.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Board would register each step in the process as it occurs. The board would have powers to make a referral to police or other agencies if it believed something was amiss.
The chief executive of the WA Health Department would also have to sign off on the fatal medicine being issued.
Premier Mark McGowan said he hoped to have the legislation passed by the end of the year.
“We have come up with an excellent piece of legislation that has
more than 100 safeguards built into it, that deals with this difficult issue sensitively and ensures that those people who want to take that ultimate act of personal choice to end their suffering when they are terminally ill and in pain can do so,” he said.
“I know there will be lots of people who try to scare others about this issue but it is essentially an act of compassion and kindness to the terminally ill who are in pain, that is what this is about.”
Former governor Malcolm McCusker issued a plea for the terms euthanasia and assisted suicide not to be used. He argued that the proper definition of euthanasia was someone who was involuntarily being put to death, as had happened in nazi Germany.
“Nor is it suicide because this involves the ending of agony in many cases of a person who is reaching their end of life and is certainly going to die,” he said. Mr McCusker and his wife Tonya attended a rally, led by Andrew Denton and Adam Gilchrist, pictured below, supporting the laws.
The WA Australian Medical Association said it was “alarmed” by the planned laws, saying the lack of a permit system like that in Victoria would give rise to “doctor shopping” by patients.
“The AMA’s position is we want the Government to slow down and be very careful about this legislation and ensure the community completely understands it,” AMA (WA) president Andrew Miller said.
Dying with Dignity WA boss Steve Walker applauded the bill. “The community is in support of voluntary assisted dying legislation,” he said.