Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) has a number of names including, but not limited to: voluntary euthanasia, assisted death and assisted suicide. Ultimately it is a voluntary action by a person with capacity and will to end their life with assistance of a medical practitioner.[1] The act involves either a patient taking lethal drugs that are intentionally prescribed by a physician, or the intentional administration of a lethal injection by a physician at the patient’s request.[2] Requirements for application for VAD are that the applicant is aged 18 of over, an Australian citizen or permanent resident whom has resided in Western Australia for at least 12 months, be acting voluntarily and without coercion, have capacity to make healthcare decisions, have a life-limiting illness and be experiencing suffering that cannot be adequately relieved.[3]  Often the purpose of VAD will be preservation of dignity of a person and to remove some of the struggle for that person and those close to them. It has become an important contemporary debate in law, medicine and ethics.[4]

In December 2019, the Western Australian Parliament’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act[5] was enacted by Royal Assent and there is an 18-month implementation period in progress led by the Department of Health to give health and other service providers time to prepare. To access voluntary assisted dying, a person must:

  • Be eligible[6] (see first paragraph for eligibility criteria);
  • Have been independently assessed as eligible by two trained medical practitioners;
  • Make three separate requests for voluntary assisted dying: a first request, a written declaration (witnessed by two people who meet specific requirements) and a final request; and
  • Determine (with advice from a medical practitioner) whether to administer the voluntary assisted dying substance[7] by self-administration or practitioner administration.

At any stage of the process, the person can withdraw or revoke their involvement.[8]

The 18-month implementation period means voluntary assisted dying will be available in Western Australia from around May of 2021.

[1] Nichloas Cowdery, ‘A Dignified Ending’ (2017) 33 Law Society of NSW Journal 28, 28.

[2] John Keown, ‘“Voluntary Assisted Dying” in Australia: The Victorian Parliamentary Committee’s Tenuous Case for Legalisation’ (2018) 26(2) Issues in Law and Medicine 55, 56.

[3] Tara Nipe, ‘What Australian Nurses Need To Know About Voluntary Assisted Dying’ (2019) 26(7) Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal 28, 28.

[4] Above n 2, 55.

[5] Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA).

[6] Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA) s 16(1).

[7] Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA) s 7(2).

[8] Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 (WA) s 57(1)(b).