Voluntary Assisted Dying in Western Australia – not the slippery slope first feared

In: WA’s voluntary assisted dying laws have been in place for a year. Have they served their purpose? by Keane Bourke (ABC News 1 July 2022) a story about WA’s voluntary assisted dying laws and the doctors who look back at the year since they came into effect.

For the last year, Angela Cooney has been doing the opposite of what doctors are normally trained to do – she has been helping people end their lives.

Dr Cooney is often their first step in accessing Western Australia’s voluntary assisted dying scheme, and in many instances, also the last.

For some of the more than 171 West Australians who have used the scheme since it came into effect exactly a year ago, she has been there to help them, and their families, in their final moments.

People who accessed the scheme had an average age of 73, with slightly more men than women following it through to the end.

Of those, 65 per cent had been diagnosed with cancer-related conditions, 15 per cent were neurological-related and 8 per cent had respiratory issues.

The vast majority, 79 per cent, were in the metropolitan area, with the remaining 21 per cent spread across the rest of WA.

Those figures are roughly in line with how WA’s population is divided between the city and the country.

From opponent to advocate

About 20 years ago, Simon Towler was the state president of the Australian Medical Association, arguing on radio against euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke.

Now he is one of the state’s leading VAD providers, having seen both the public’s demand for voluntary euthanasia but also the distress of families who were left without a choice at the end of loved one’s life.

“There was a lot of conversation around VAD — that it’s going to be wealthy, western suburbs, ageing males who will access VAD,” he said.

“That has not been the experience in this state.

“We’ve had everything from very wealthy people through to very poor people, we’ve even had Aboriginal people who’ve accessed VAD when there were comments [saying] that would not happen.”

And while he admitted it could be “terrifying” to be involved in, he described the “absolute privilege” to be part of the process.

WA’s voluntary euthanasia laws came after a drawn-out debate, both in and outside of Parliament, with one sitting of the lower house lasting almost 21 hours.

It ended with legislation containing more than 100 safeguards, including that the person accessing the scheme be:

  • 18 years or older
  • terminally ill with a condition causing intolerable suffering
  • likely to die within six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions.

They must make three requests to die – two verbal and one written – with two independent doctors overseeing the process.

Once the requirements have been met, a person can choose to either administer the VAD substance themselves, or have it done by a qualified doctor or nurse.

Read the full article here: Doctors reflect on WA VAD

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