Assisted dying blocked for dementia in WA

Stock image.
Stock image.

PEOPLE with dementia are likely to be banned from accessing voluntary assisted dying under proposed laws in Western Australia.

A 13-member expert panel chaired by former WA governor Malcolm McCusker delivered its final report to state parliament on Thursday, providing a guide for the government to draft its legislation.

The panel made 31 recommendations, with Mr McCusker describing it as a minefield successfully navigated by the team.

“(The report provides) compassion for those who are suffering and facing death and safeguards against all kinds of possibilities, the chief one of which was raised several times, which was coercion,” he told reporters.

The panel recommends a person over the age of 18 and ordinarily living in WA will be eligible for voluntary assisted dying if death is reasonably foreseeable within 12 months.

Mr McCusker and Health Minister Roger Cook noted that was similarly recommended in Victoria, which has legalised assisted dying but for political reasons it was reduced to six months.

Under the plan in WA, a patient must have decision-making capacities, which could rule out people with dementia, and they must make three requests, including one in writing.

Two witnesses must also prove they will not benefit financially from the death.

Two doctors will be required to assess a person and be independently satisfied they meet the criteria.

Doctors and nurses will not be compelled to participate but if they choose not to they must provide information to the patient to allow them to access it elsewhere.

Mr McCusker said the primary approach would be for the person to self-administer the medication to “enforce the fact that this is a voluntary act” but they can be assisted by a practitioner if required.

The panel recommends at least 18 months between the law passing and its commencement.

The legislation should also be reviewed three years later, the panel says.

Mr Cook said there were still considerations to be made about how best to implement the plan in remote areas and the role of pharmacies.

The minister acknowledged health professionals remained divided on the issue but said while it was a difficult debate it was one the community was ready for.

“This is not a choice about whether someone lives or dies … it’s about the manner of that death,” Mr Cook said.

The legislation will be introduced in the WA parliament in August and MPs will have a conscience vote.