Voluntary Assisted Dying

Friday, September 6, 2019 4:20 pm
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Maryka Groenewald from Australian Christians joins Bec in the studio to discuss the Euthanasia bill that’s recently circulating parliament.

Recently the State Government debated the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill for over twelve hours in the Lower House.

The bill has been in the works for a couple of years and the State Government hopes to have an answer about whether or not the bill will be adopted by the end of the year. However, for this to happen it must pass both the lower and upper houses of Parliament.

Maryka Groenewald, WA State Director from the Australian Christians party joined us in the studio to help break down exactly what happened in the debate and what it would mean for West Australians if the bill passes both parliamentary houses.

“So pretty much we are in the final stages of people considering this bill and hopefully sanity prevails in this particular case,” said Ms Groenewald.

The bill has been discussed over the last couple of years.

It has passed all of the committees, gone out to different organisations for feedback and gone through the consultation phase. The debate in August was the latest step in moving the bill forward before it goes to a vote in parliament.

The debate centred on the pros and cons of the debate and discussed the necessary safeguards that it would need for the bill to be protected and protect the public.

“The language and how they dress up these particular things is always very clever but again when you look at the very definition of euthanasia, this scheme is a scheme in which a voluntary assisted dying substance can be administered by a practitioner at the request of the patient. So by definition, it is euthanasia,” described Maryka.

People fighting for the pros of the debate talk about the freedoms this would give the terminally ill and how for those who are dying it gives dignity to their death.

However, for people on the opposite side of the debate, Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) is seen as having the intent to kill, also known as suicide and does not have the safety precautions for anyone who is being coerced.

“With euthanasia, there is an intention to provide someone with a cocktail of poisons for that person to then be able to end their life. So a patient refusing medical treatment or resuscitation, that is not euthanasia. Switching off life support, that is not euthanasia. Withdrawing medical support that has become burdensome, that is not euthanasia,” described Ms Groenewald. “All those things are not a deliberate intent to end that person’s life; it is normally through the natural means of that injury or disease.”

The finalised bill, if passed by the Upper House will legislate to all West Australians. Western Australia would become the second state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying.

So who does the bill appeal to? And what will it mean for the terminally ill in WA?

According to Maryka Groenewald, “There are so many people with mental illness, the elderly, our regional rural aboriginal communities, the socially isolate, a lot of people who this bill will be a disaster too.”

Upon the consultation phase and taking the bill to different organisations, the importance of safeguards in the bill became apparent. The safeguards are necessary to protect the public who this bill could be applicable to and for the physicians to have guidelines to work within accordance with the proposed law.

Currently, there are 102 ‘stringent’ safeguards in place.

These safeguards state the person must be a current Australian resident or citizen for more than a year and be over the age of 18 in order to have access to VAD.

The bill also states that the person must… ‘Have a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and will on the balance of probabilities, cause death within six months, or 12 months if it is a neurodegenerative condition. The condition would also need to be causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable.’

The request and assessment process requires three requests by the patient (two verbal with a written declaration in between). These declarations must be witnessed by two independent people and there must be a minimum of two independent medical assessments by two doctors, and a final review by the coordinating doctor.

The Australian Medical Association for WA (AMA WA) stated in their recommendation for the bill that; “Clinical evidence recognises that there is a high rate of mental illness associated with terminal disease and it is very difficult to separate suicidal ideation as a result of major depression from a ‘reasonable’ request for an end to pain and suffering.”

The AMA is not the only organisation who is concerned with the haste at which this proposed law has been discussed and turned into a bill but for an organisation like Dying with Dignity, it has not come quick enough.

How would these safeguards work for people in rural communities where resources are already limited?

“Outreach services could only be safely implemented with a “fly in fly out” model of medical practitioners and health care professionals providing face to face outreach voluntary assisted dying service for patients in the rural and remote region for the assessment to the certification of death coordinated by a government-led central facility,” recommended AMA WA. “Telehealth must not be used for patient assessment and administration of voluntary assisted dying in the state.”

Currently, in regional WA there is a serious lack of high-quality palliative care. This means that some people in these regions may see no other option than to seek the VAD as their only option for how to deal with their condition. For these regions, not all have access to two or more doctors for the assessments required for VAD to be considered for the patient. Therefore according to the current bill, they are able to make this request via ‘audiovisual communication’ if no practical to do so in person. This raises a concern about wrongful deaths if these regional people are not getting contact with someone one on one. Does this mean that death is really their only option to end suffering?

Mr Malcom McCusker conducted the consultation phase before the debate occurred. His consultation resulted in the Final Report of the Ministerial Expert Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying.

This report stated, “The person must have decision-making capacity in order to make a choice or request to administer or be administered the lethal dose of medication.”

Therefore for those who have lost the decision-making capacity, it is not possible for them ‘validly confirm’ they wish to proceed with the lethal injection.

On Tuesday night the Legislative Assembly voted in favour of the Governments bill. The vote gave an obvious win with a vote of 44 to 12. The next step for the bill will be the Upper House where it will be debated again and put to a vote before the law can be passed.

Written by Rebecca Low

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