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Comment sought on framework for WA assisted dying law

20 March, 2019

A ministerial expert panel helping to shape voluntary assisted dying legislation in Western Australia has released a discussion paper and called for public comment.

The 13-member panel will hold public consultation sessions in Perth and regional centres during April and May 2019. Those who cannot attend can submit written comments up until 24 May. Higson_Rally_3.jpg

“Go Gentle urges anyone with an interest in this legislation to submit their comments. 88% of Western Australians support a voluntary assisted dying law, and it’s essential they have their say on what the future law will look like,” said Go Gentle WA Campaign Manager, Joey Armenti.

Parliament is expected to begin debate on the bill in the second half of this year. 

Minister for Health Roger Cook said the aim of the discussion paper was to assist the development of workable legislation, not to argue for or against voluntary assisted dying.

He described the consultation as a vital step in the progress of a law that would “help ensure the legislation [has] appropriate safeguards for all involved and is world’s best practice.”

If enacted, WA would become the first Australian state to pass an assisted dying law following Victoria’s landmark Voluntary Assisted Dying Act in 2017. The Victorian law takes effect in June this year.

Attending the discussion paper’s release was southern Perth resident Margo Beilby, whose husband Michael chose to end his life in 2013 by swallowing an illegal lethal drug he had ordered online.

The 73-year-old had been suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a serious lung condition, and from Parkinson’s disease. “I might as well die peacefully and I don’t want to be hospitalised again,” the grandfather said in a final video message. 

“His doctors had told him there was nothing they could do to cure him. In fact, his specialist … said that ‘if he was lucky’ he would get pneumonia and die relatively quickly,” Margo said.

"He was worried about me being charged with being there − he wanted me to go off shopping and come home and find him dead," she told reporters.

"I said after 51 years of marriage I wasn't going to let him die on his own.”

Among the issues canvassed in the discussion paper are eligibility criteria, safeguards and the logistics surrounding the request and provision of assistance to die.

Under the proposed eligibility criteria, access to voluntary assisted dying would be limited to:

  • Australian citizens aged 18 years or over who are ordinarily resident in WA
  • Those who have the capacity to make an informed decision, free from coercion
  • Are diagnosed with an illness or disease that is terminal, chronic or neurodegenerative, and that will cause death in the reasonably foreseeable future
  • Are experiencing grievous, ongoing and irremediable suffering.

Led by Queen’s Counsel and former WA Governor, Mr Malcolm McCusker AC, the Expert Panel comprises leaders from key sectors of the WA community including medicine, palliative care, aged care, law, disabilities, human rights and indigenous affairs.

“Throughout the consultation period, the panel will listen carefully, and always respectfully, to differing views, comments and suggestions,” Mr McCusker said.

The call for public comment follows a year-long parliamentary inquiry that received 730 submissions and held 81 public hearings.

In its final report My Life, My Choice, the inquiry committee said voluntary assisted dying should be an option for people experiencing "grievous and irremediable suffering" from a progressive, terminal, chronic or neurodegenerative condition.

View the discussion paper here.

Find information on public consultation sessions here.

Comments on the discussion paper can be lodged via: