Doctors' rep warns of lack of safeguards in WA assisted suicide, euthanasia bill

Parliament House Perth Credit Adwo Shutterstock Parliament House, Perth. | Adwo/Shutterstock.

The president of the Australian Medical Association (WA) said last week that a West Australian bill to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia lacks requirements to prevent an "entrepreneurial euthanasia clinic" from being founded in the state.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 would allow residents of the state who have a terminal illness and are expected to die within six months, or a neurodegenerative condition and are expected to die within 12 months, to request either assisted suicide or euthanasia.

They must have decision-making capabilities and make the request thrice, including once in writing with two independent witnesses. The bill requires two doctors to provide independent assessments of the patient and the coordinating doctor must provide a final review.

Only those who have been residents of Western Australia for a year or more will be eligible. Patients in remote areas may access doctors via teleconference.

The bill would allow doctors to raise the subject of assisted suicide or euthanasia with patients.

Dr. Andrew Miller, president of the AMA (WA) told WAtoday Sept. 17 that the bill does not require that the two doctors assessing the patient needn't be finanically independent of each other, or that they specialize in palliative medicine or the patient's terminal illness.

"Once you can get two doctors in the same business working together, we know that the history of medicine is that there are doctors you just can't trust around money and doctors you can't trust to do the right thing," Miller said.

"We see doctors getting struck off all the time. We see some doctors go to jail. So why would we trust them in this area?"

He cautioned that "we don't believe the government or the community want to see an entrepreneurial euthanasia clinic in Perth."

Last month the AMA (WA) noted that "The Australian Medical Associations across the country believe that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person's life."

The group clarified that this "does not include the discontinuation of treatments that are of no medical benefit to a dying patient. Nor does it include death being hastened as a secondary effect of giving, for example, large doses of pain killers, which commonly occurs already in end-of-life care."

When assisted suicide or euthanasia are legalized, the AMAs urge that the law protect vulnerable patients as well as patients and doctors who do not want to participate.

The AMA WA has recommended that the West Australian bill "be rejected outright or be amended to provide adequate safeguards," and has said the the bill's existing safeguard "are manifestly less safe than those in the legislation passed by the Victorian Parliament in 2017." Victoria's law allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia took effect in June.

The Labor government introduced the bill, and premier Mark McGowan has said, "the bill has been very carefully crafted and very carefully drafted using the best expertise in Australia and so we think it's got the balance pretty well right."

Labor MPs are allowed a conscience vote on the bill.

According to the Archdiocese of Perth, more than 1,000 people attended a rally this month outside Perth's Parliament House to protest the bill.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth has called the proposed legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia "both unsafe and unnecessary."

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"The decision parliament makes in the next few weeks will forever shape the way we do healthcare in W.A. It will change the way doctors relate to patients, and affect the confidence that elderly and disabled people can have in their caregivers," he said.

"One person should not be permitted to kill another person, no matter what. Please do not remain silent," said the archbishop. "Make your thoughts known to your local Members of Parliament, in both the legislative assembly and the legislative council as soon as you can. It's the only way your voice can be heard in this debate."

Victoria is currently the only Australian jurisdiction where assisted suicide or euthanasia are legal.

Queensland has been considering a similar bill. New South Wales rejected such a bill in 2017, as did the national parliament in 2016, and that of Tasmania in 2013.

The Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide in 1995, but the Australian parliament overturned the law two years later.

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