Western Australia becomes second state to legalise assisted dying after phenomenal year for campaign across the world

Posted On: 
10th December 2019

Western Australia today became the second state in the country to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. 

Western Australia today became the second state in the country to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. It follows the state of Victoria, which changed the law in 2017 and began offering assisted dying to its citizens earlier this year. The law in WA will be implemented in 18 months’ time, at which point a third of Australians will live in states that permit assisted dying.

New Zealand’s End of Life Choice Act was passed in November and will come into force subject to a national referendum on assisted dying in 2020. Canada, the other Commonwealth nation to permit assisted dying, legalised choice at the end of life for terminally and chronically ill citizens nationwide in 2016.

In the UK, supporters of assisted dying have been lobbying parliamentary candidates to support an inquiry on the subject in the new Parliament. Similar inquiries were undertaken in Victoria, Western Australia and New Zealand, allowing for Parliamentarians to fully understand the negative consequences of enforcing a blanket ban on assisted dying.

The news also comes shortly before a survey by the Royal College of General Practitioners is due to close, with GPs being asked what position their professional body should take on the subject of assisted dying. The Royal College of Australian GPs has not campaigned for or against law change in Victoria or Western Australia. Instead it has recognised the range of views amongst its members and supported the inclusion of effective safeguards in legislation. Earlier this year a survey by the Royal College of Physicians led to the College moving from a position of official opposition to assisted dying to one of engaged neutrality. The British Medical Association is due to consult its own members for the first time in its history in early 2020.  

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“This is great news for the people of Western Australia and will be encouraging news to dying people throughout Australia who are demanding the same choice for themselves. We know that, like in Australia, the vast majority of people in the UK are supportive of a change in the law. We hope the growing number of jurisdictions that have crafted assisted dying laws for their own citizens will reassure our own politicians that assisted dying is the right choice and the safest choice for people in the UK. In the new Parliament we will be urging MPs to support an inquiry into the state of the current law.

“There have been huge developments both in the UK and around the world this year on assisted dying. In the UK, the Royal College of Physicians’ decision to move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying shows that medical opinion in this country is changing and we hope the Royal College of General Practitioners and British Medical Association will both follow their lead in 2020. Meanwhile, Western Australia, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and New Zealand have all grasped the nettle and given their own citizens the choice to die on their own terms. Crucially, medical associations around the world have shown that moving to a position of neutrality has allowed them to act in the best interests of doctors and dying people.

“This year we have also seen some of the devastating effects of the blanket ban on assisted dying in this country. Both the cases of Ann Whaley and Mavis Eccleston have shown that the law does not work for dying people, their families or for public servants who must enforce this broken law. Research has shown that 17 people in the UK will die every day without adequate pain relief, with many more experiencing uncontrollable symptoms in their last days and weeks of life. People like Richard Selley, who died at Dignitas in September, have spoken out against laws that deny choice at the end of life. In the new Parliament we are certain that the vast majority of Brits who want a change in the law will ask: If the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can all pass assisted dying laws, why can’t we?”

Elaine Selley, whose husband Richard died at Dignitas in September, said:

“If we had lived in Western Australia, Richard would have been comforted to know that the choice was available to him. It is galling to think that if we had lived in Perth in Australia rather than Perth in Scotland he might have been able to die at home, with friends and family around him, rather than having to make the journey to Switzerland to exercise control over his own death.”