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Australia Assisted dying bill leaves sick and elderly open to coercion

22:50  08 december  2019
22:50  08 december  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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a man and a woman holding a sign: Euthanasia supporters rally on the steps of Parliament House, Perth.© Marta Pascual Juanola Euthanasia supporters rally on the steps of Parliament House, Perth. Western Australia is set to become the 18th jurisdiction in the world to legalise a form of assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Last week the state's Upper House voted resoundingly in favour of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 24 to 11.

A special sitting of the Lower House on Tuesday is expected to consider some amendments before passing it into law.

Labor Premier, Mark McGowan, has dismissed concerns about the government-sponsored law as “ridiculous”, and has accused opponents of “scaremongering”.

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He is being unduly sanguine. The Western Australian assisted dying bill is significantly more permissive than the one passed by Victoria in 2017.

Western Australian adults will be eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, have six months or less to live (12 months in the case of neurodegenerative illness), and are suffering in a manner that they deem to be intolerable.

A patient must make three requests – two verbal and one in writing – and must be assessed by two medical practitioners.

Unlike Victoria, WA will not require a patient to be assessed by a specialist. Two GPs, for example, could approve a request for euthanasia from a patient with pancreatic cancer or motor neurone disease even if they have never treated patients with these conditions before.

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Labor Member for Perth Tim Hammond.© AAP Image/Mick Tsikas Labor Member for Perth Tim Hammond. Critics warn that non-specialists may provide inaccurate diagnoses and prognoses for terminally ill patients, leading to wrongful deaths.

“[If] we get it wrong in relation to a diagnosis, what number [of wrongful deaths] is acceptable?” former Labor MP Tim Hammond said.

Mr Hammond is a vocal opponent of the assisted dying bill.

Critics also argue that people with mental illness would be at risk.

Doctors in Victoria are advised by the state’s legislation to refer patients to a psychiatrist if they have a mental illness that affects their decision-making capacity - but the WA bill contains no such provision.

Suicide prevention advocate and former SANE Australia director Michael Perrott slammed this oversight, arguing that “we need specially trained people to deal with those who are mentally unwell”.

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Conversations about euthanasia

a group of people in a room: WA MPs have already spent 60 hours this year debating the controversial bill. (ABC News: Manny Tesconi)© ABC NEWS WA MPs have already spent 60 hours this year debating the controversial bill. (ABC News: Manny Tesconi) One hotly debated issue was that the bill will allow doctors to initiate conversations about euthanasia. This is problematic.

Doctors may be tempted to suggest the easiest (and cheapest) solution.

What if a neurologist proposes euthanasia as “the best option” for a patient diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour?

This bill exposes patients to undue influence from doctors. In addition, Indigenous groups, culturally and linguistically diverse populations, and patients with disabilities may misinterpret a doctor’s words.

But it also leaves doctors exposed to pressure from families who want them to recommend euthanasia.

The Upper House accepted amendments to an earlier draft, including a clause that ensures that witnesses and practitioners involved in a patient’s application for euthanasia are not beneficiaries of the patient’s will.

Yet other amendments were rejected, including provisions for equitable access to palliative care in rural areas and adequate oversight for patients with mental illness.

Voluntary euthanasia bill passes WA Upper House with laws set to take hold within days

  Voluntary euthanasia bill passes WA Upper House with laws set to take hold within days Western Australia is set to become the second state to legalise voluntary euthanasia after proposed laws allowing terminally ill people to end their own lives pass the Upper House. The controversial voluntary assisted dying bill is now destined to become law within days after being passed 24 votes to 11.

Belinda Teh Walks from Kings Park to the WA Parliament with Euthanasia advocates.© Will Russell/Getty Images Belinda Teh Walks from Kings Park to the WA Parliament with Euthanasia advocates. The method of assisted dying in WA will be either the self-administration of a lethal dose of medication (assisted suicide) or administration of the drug by a medical practitioner (euthanasia).

In Victoria, a doctor can only administer the drug if a patient is physically incapable.

This is important. Rates of euthanasia are higher in Canada, for instance, where patients can choose either euthanasia or assisted suicide.

There may be a far higher rate of patients in WA choosing to end their lives than most politicians have anticipated.

Victoria’s legislation was described by Premier Daniel Andrews as “the most conservative euthanasia law in the world”.

Perhaps the Western Australian bill should be described as the most liberal euthanasia law in Australia. It leaves sick and elderly Australians open to coercion at the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from depression, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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