Voluntary euthanasia: where MPs stand

MAYLANDS MP LISA BAKER watched a close friend die from a terminal illness.

She supports the proposed legislation, but says her experience made her realise on a practical level just how hard it would be for someone to make the call.

“I had a very dear friend who was diagnosed with what they thought was rapid onset of dementia.

“He was fit and healthy like you and me…he went away on a trip and came back and had this diagnosis given to him. I watched him over a period of six months before he died. And it was terrifying to me, because I’d always thought to myself personally, if I was sick, I’d find a way of opting out, rather than getting to a point where I wasn’t able to make a decision.”

But she says the rapidity with which the illness overcame him didn’t leave much time for contemplating euthanasia.

“It took most of his time to acknowledge the fact that he was ill and would probably not recover.

“I am fully supportive of being able to give people the right to make a decision when they have the competency and are in a position to make that decision. But for me, it was demonstrated in cold reality how difficult that will actually be for me.”

She says “at the moment I’m fully supportive of having the option,” but she’ll need to see how the legislation deals with the complicated issues. “I’ll be listening to the community; I won’t just listen to the polarised views, I just really want to talk with people.”

• Simon Millman (left) and John Carey (right).

PERTH MP JOHN CAREY has personal experience watching a loved one die a painful, protracted death, but he says he’s still undecided about voluntary assisted dying.

Labor MPs are allowed a conscience vote on this issue once the draft legislation hits parliament next year.

Having watched his mother die from brain cancer, he says he’s leaning towards supporting the government’s bill to allow voluntary euthanasia, but won’t commit to voting one way or the other yet.

Mr Carey says “I’ve already had people email me in the lead-up saying ‘clarify your position, right now’. I’m sorry, I’m not going to. I have an inclination one way from my own experience but I still need to do thorough research, take the time to read all the information in front of me, so I make no apology…I don’t want to commit to legislation I haven’t seen yet.

Terrible death

“In the meantime I am happy to take in information from the community.”

He says “I witnessed my mother die a terrible death, and it was shocking. In the last two months she starved to death, it was effectively starvation. I witnessed my mum, who was my best friend and the most beautiful person in the world to me, die a very terrible death. It’s very emotional, for people on both sides of the debate.”

A SPECIAL REPORT BY David Bell

MT LAWLEY MP SIMON MILLMAN sat on the parliamentary “End of Life Choices” committee, which recommended legalising voluntary assisted dying to lessen “unnecessary suffering at end of life”.

The committee also recommended several other changes to health and palliative care, which Mr Millman says will promote choice and alleviate suffering.

But the proposals will require “safeguards and rigorous processes…ensuring individual decision-making capacity and the absence of coercion”.

The committee also recommended that to be eligible for assisted dying, the person must be experiencing “grievous and irremediable suffering” relating to an advanced and progressive terminal, chronic or neurodegenerative condition, “that cannot be alleviated in a manner acceptable to that person, where death is a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the condition”.

No compulsion

The committee also urged that “there should be no compulsion for individual health professionals to participate”. However professional bodies like the Australian Medical Association WA are against physician-assisted suicide, urging improvements to palliative care so people don’t want to end their lives.

Several of the report’s recommendations focus on improving palliative care: It calls for a specialist palliative care hospice in the northern suburbs, and for a review to determine the unmet demand for palliative care.

Part of the committee’s work involved visiting hospices and meeting with healthcare providers and patients.

Mr Millman says ‘I was fortunate, as a first term MP, to sit on the committee. People let us into their lives to share their most personal, distressing stories. We are elected to shoulder the responsibility of making decisions about life and death. I will support legislation that gives effect to the well-informed, balanced recommendations contained in our report, promoting choice and alleviating suffering.’

Former governor Malcolm McCusker will head an 11-member expert panel to draft the legislation based on the recommendations.

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