Voluntary Assisted Dying Laws (VAD) (WA) | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Voluntary Assisted Dying Laws (VAD) (WA)


Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD), often called “voluntary euthanasia”, is legal in Western Australia under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019. The Act, which came into effect on 1 July, 2021, provides for and regulates access to VAD.

Principles

The Act states a person exercising a power of performing a function related to VAD must consider principles such as:

  • every human life has value;
  • a person’s autonomy in making end-of-life choices should be respected;
  • a person approaching the end of life should be provided with high-quality care and treatment to minimise their suffering and maximise their quality of life;
  • a person should be encouraged to openly discuss death and dying, and their preferences and values about their care, treatment and end of life should be encouraged and promoted.

A doctor or nurse practitioner can initiate a discussion about VAD with a patient as long as they also inform the patient at that time of treatment options and palliative care options, and the likely outcomes of those. Other health workers are prohibited from discussing VAD with a patient.

Eligibility

To be eligible for VAD, the person must:

  • be aged at least 18;
  • an Australian citizen or permanent resident and have lived in WA for at least 12 months;
  • have at least 1 disease, illness or medical condition that
    • is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
    • will, on the balance of probabilities, case death within 6 months, or for a neurogenerative condition, within 12 months;
  • have decision-making capacity;
  • be acting voluntarily and without coercion;
  • have made request for it that is enduring.

A person is not eligible for VAD because they have a disability or a mental illness.

Assessment

A first assessment is made by a co-ordinating practitioner, who decides whether the person is eligible. The practitioner must have completed approved training. They can refer the patient to a registered health practitioner if they cannot determine whether the patient has the requisite disease, illness or medical condition, or whether the patient has decision-making capacity in relation to VAD.

If the co-ordinating practitioner is satisfied the person is eligible, they must inform the person about matters including the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis; the potential risks of receiving a VAD substance for the purposes of death; and that the patient can discontinue the VAD process at any time.

A consulting medical practitioner must then conduct an independent assessment. If the practitioner confirms the person is eligible, other requirements under the Act must be followed, including the making of a written declaration, a final request and final review.

A doctor who has a conscientious objection to VAD has the right to refuse to take part in a VAD request and assessment process; to prescribe, supply or administer a VAD substance; and to be present when such a substance is administered.

Administration

The person can decide whether they will self-administer the VAD substance or have a medical practitioner administer it to them. If a person chooses to self-administer the substance, they can choose the time and place for this, and who can be present. If a practitioner administers the substance, this must be done in the presence of a witness, who must attest that the person’s request for VAD appeared to be free, voluntary and enduring, and that the substance was administered in their presence.

For the purposes of state law, a person who dies in accordance with VAD laws, does not die by suicide.

Safeguards

The Act contains many safeguards, including:

  • a person must make at least 3 separate requests for VAD;
  • a person who acts as a co-ordinating practitioner must have held general medical registration for at least 10 years, or specialist registration for at least 1 year;
  • a co-ordinating practitioner or consulting practitioner must not be a family member of the person, or a beneficiary under their will or otherwise benefit financially;
  • the requirement for a contact person when a person chooses self-administration. The contact person must receive the VAD substance from an authorised supplier, supply it to the patient, then give any unused substance to an authorised disposer;
  • strict laws for the prescription of a VAD substance, including that the prescription must state it is for a VAD substance and that the request and assessment process has been completed; and that the prescription must be given directly to an authorised supplier;
  • a Voluntary Assisted Dying Board, which ensures compliance with VAD laws.

Offences

The Act also contains offences relating to VAD which act as safeguards. If a person, by dishonesty, undue influence or coercion, induces another person to access VAD, they face a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. If a person, by dishonesty, undue influence or coercion, induces another person to self-administer a prescribed substance, they face imprisonment for life.

If a person advertises a substance as a VAD substance, they face imprisonment for 3 years and a fine of $36,000. Presenting a false prescription for such a substance carries a penalty of 12 months imprisonment.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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