They were meant to advise the government, not lobby them

The “independent” chair of the Ministerial Expert Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying in Western Australia and a number of the other members of the Panel appear to have turned from ministerial advisors to euthanasia lobbyists as the WA Parliament continues its debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The group has written to all Members of the Legislative Council, with the clear objective of persuading them to vote against proposed amendments designed to make the Bill safer for vulnerable West Australians.

Amendments rejected by the group include:

  • That the disease the person seeking euthanasia is suffering from be “incurable.” One of the reasons the group rejected this amendment is because a disease may be “curable,” but only with a treatment “which is very expensive”;
  • That one of the two doctors assessing a patient be a specialist in the disease from which the patient is suffering. One of the reasons the group rejected this amendment is because it would be “particularly onerous if there is a limited number (if any) of such specialists in remote and regional areas.”  Interestingly, this is the same argument as was made by Dying with Dignity WA in its submission to the parliamentary inquiry;
  • That doctors be prevented from being the first to initiate a discussion about euthanasia or assisted suicide with their patient, a safeguard available in Victoria and described by the Victorian government as intended “to protect individuals who may be open to suggestion or coercion by registered health practitioners”; and
  • That doctors should be required to apply for, and obtain, a permit from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to prescribe and/or administer a lethal drug to a patient. This is also another safeguard in place under the Victorian legislation, and its inclusion in the euthanasia process was described by the Victorian government as giving the Secretary the ability to refuse a permit “if not satisfied that the request and assessment process has been completed as required.”

To sum up, the Ministerial Expert Panel is now lobbying parliamentarians to reject amendments to the Bill that would:

  • require the patient to be suffering from an illness that is truly terminal;
  • require that the at least one of the doctors signing off on the patient’s death actually specialise in the patient’s illness; and
  • give to vulnerable West Australians key safeguards present in the Victorian legislation.

No one should be surprised.  In its public forums, the Expert Panel expressed that it did not want to hear from those who opposed a euthanasia law, and only those who wanted to discuss the form the law should take.

In addition, certain Panel members have even needed to be called out by the Australian Medical Association (WA) for appearing more like activists than advisors.

The AMA (WA) had to call out “independent” chair over comments in the media that the proposed law would be limited to those who were certainly going to die and who are in extreme pain, neither of which were eligibility requirements in the Bill being discussed.

The AMA (WA) was also forced to respond to an attack from another panel member, Scott Blackwell, who slammed the AMA for raising legitimate concerns about the lack of a requirement to assess patient capacity just prior to the administration of the lethal drugs, or to ensure that the two doctors signing off on the death be financially independent of each other, or to specialise in the relevant condition.

While it is important that parliamentarians hear from all concerned parties about the Bill, those on the Ministerial Expert Panel should not use their privileged position to suggest that their views carry any more weight than other euthanasia lobbyists out there.  It’s simply disingenuous.