The introduction of voluntary assisted dying legislation in Western Australia was very contentious and divisive. Now that the new legislation is in force, when does it apply and what is the process involved?
On 1 July 2021 the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 came into effect and eligible West Australians gained access to voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying allows eligible adults to request and access medical assistance to end their life if they are suffering from an advanced, progressive disease, illness or medical condition that is expected to cause death within 6 months (12 months for neurodegenerative diseases). The disease, illness or condition must also cause suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable.
To initiate the process, a patient must make the first clear and unambiguous request to an eligible medical practitioner for access to voluntary assisted dying.
After the first request is made the patient is assessed by at least two independent and appropriately trained medical practitioners. First, the medical practitioner that accepts the request, referred to as the coordinating practitioner, and if they are satisfied then secondly, the consulting practitioner.
Throughout the process, the patient must make 3 separate clear and unambiguous requests for voluntary assisted dying. The first request mentioned above, a written declaration that is witnessed by two people and can be made after a patient is assessed as eligible, and a final request. The final request can only be made after the end of the designated period (currently a 9-day period beginning on the day that the patient made the first request).
One of the key criteria required to access the voluntary assisted dying process is that it must be voluntary. The person must have the requisite enduring capacity to make the decision for themselves and the decision must be made without coercion.
A person cannot access the voluntary assisted dying process if they have lost their decision-making capacity.
Where possible, every person should carefully consider their treatment wishes while they have decision-making capacity and should ensure that they have valid and up to date estate planning documents, which may include a will, enduring power of attorney, enduring power of guardianship and an advanced health directive, that reflect their current wishes. You may also wish to ensure that your families and health practitioners are aware and informed of your treatment wishes should you become terminally ill, bearing in mind that they cannot access voluntary assisted dying on your behalf.
For legal advice on the voluntary assisted dying legislation, please contact our Wills and Estates team.
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