The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 was passed by Parliament on 10 December 2019 and is currently awaiting Royal Assent. However, the Act will not become operational for approximately 18 months or so, to allow time for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board to be established and a service delivery framework and clinical guidelines developed to ensure that the process is undertaken safely and in accordance with the legislation.

A summary of key points in the legislation is below:

Eligibility

To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying (VAD), the person must meet all eligibility criteria, being that they:

  • are aged 18 years or over
  • are an Australian citizen or permanent resident who has been ordinarily resident in Western Australia for at least 12 months
  • have been diagnosed with at least 1 disease, illness or medical condition that is:
    • advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
    • will, on the balance of probabilities cause death within a period of 6 months (or 12 months for neurodegenerative); and
    • is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable
  • must have decision-making capacity in relation to VAD (a person is presumed to have decision-making capacity in relation to VAD unless it is shown otherwise)
  • must be acting voluntarily and without coercion
  • the request to access VAD is enduring.

A person is not eligible for access to VAD only because the person has a disability or is diagnosed with a mental illness (as defined in the Mental Health Act 2014 section 4).

How to Access VAD

An eligible person may access voluntary assisted dying if:

(a) the person has made a first request; and 

(b) the person has been assessed as eligible for access to VAD by

(i) the coordinating practitioner for the person; and

(ii) the consulting practitioner for the person; 

(c) the person has made a written declaration (witnessed by two people who meet specific requirements); and

(d) the person has made a final request to the coordinating practitioner for the person; and

(e) the coordinating practitioner for the person has certified in a final review form that:

(i) the request and assessment process has been completed in accordance with the Act; and

(ii) the practitioner is satisfied of each of the matters referred to in section 51(3)(f); and

(f) the person has made an administration decision; and

(g) if the person has made a self-administration decision, the person has appointed a contact person.

Except in limited circumstances, a final request cannot be made until the end of the designated period, which is a period of 9 days beginning on the day on which the person made the first request.

Only Doctors and Nurse Practitioners may initiate discussion about VAD

Health care workers, which includes registered health professionals as well as any other person who provides health or other professional care services, must not initiate discussion about, or suggest, VAD to a person to whom they are providing professional care services. The exception to this is for medical practitioners or nurse practitioners if, at the same time, they also inform the person about treatment and palliative care options available to them and the likely outcomes of that treatment.

A contravention of this provision by a registered health practitioner will be unprofessional conduct for the purposes of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Western Australia) (National Law).

Who can administer a VAD substance?

VAD may be undertaken by way of self-administration or practitioner administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance – this is a decision to be made in consultation with the co-ordinating medical practitioner.  If self-administration, the person must appoint a Contact Person who has specific responsibilities, including return of any unused substance. If practitioner administration is chosen, this may be done by a medical practitioner or by a nurse practitioner (who meet specific requirements).

Miscellaneous

If an eligible person is unhappy with a decision of a co-ordinating practitioner or a consulting practitioner, they may apply to the State Administrative Tribunal for review of the decision. Such review hearings are to be held in private.

Health practitioners may refuse to participate in voluntary assisted dying for any reason (including conscientious objection).

A contravention of a provision of the Act by a registered health practitioner is capable of constituting professional misconduct or unprofessional conduct for the purposes of the National Law whether or not the contravention also gives rise to an offence under the Act.

To read the full Act, please click here.