What lawyers think is wrong with WA Bill

When you’re wondering about the potential dangers of a proposed law, it might be worth listening to “the peak professional association for lawyers in Western Australia.”

The Law Society of Western Australia last week released publicly its submission on the proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019, demonstrating that there are still significant issues with the bill that is due to be voted upon any day now.

The Law Society President, Greg McIntyre SC, said that given the complex nature of the bill, releasing a draft consultation bill first would have been a more appropriate process.

His criticism is consistent with that of others who believe the process has been rushed.

The Law Society put forward a number of key risks in the present bill, including:

  • Safeguarding Against Abuse and Coercion– the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Elder Abuse recommended that a government agency should have a clear role of safeguarding and supporting those at risk of elder abuse.  This has not occurred, and instead, the obligation to look for signs of elder abuse has been given to doctors.  “Whether a person is subjected to abuse, undue influence or coercion is not a medical issue,” the Law Society said.
  • Capacity– safeguards around decision-making capacity should at least match the Victorian legislation, which requires the patient to be able to retain the information to the extent necessary to make the decision.
  • Provision of Information and Documentation–registered health practitioners must not be permitted to initiate discussion with a patient about euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Qualifications and Competencies of Health Practitioners– the WA bill does not place any minimum practising requirements on medical practitioners who have received their training overseas.
  • Cause of Death Certificate– Assisted dying should be noted on the death certificate, in accordance with the recommendation of the WA Joint Select Committee into end of life choices.
  • Guardianship and Administration Act 1990 (WA)– a directive relating to voluntary assisted dying should not be included in an advanced health directive.
  • Criminal Offences– the penalties provided for certain offences under the Bill are inadequate.

Individually, each one of these is a serious issue.  Collectively, and coming with the backing of the state’s premier legal association, they should be a cause to stop the process of trying to push the Bill through before the end of next week.

Advocates of this Bill have expressed concerns that more people will die without euthanasia if its passage is delayed any longer.  Are they also concerned about how many people will die unjustly if it is rushed?