Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019: Let's give Western Australians this choice

10 September 2019

There's a very important debate going on right now in the Western Australian parliament, and that's the debate around the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, VAD for short. It has enormous public support. Newspapers and other groups are reporting 88 per cent of Western Australians want to see voluntary assisted dying introduced into the laws of our state. The issue is being widely discussed across Western Australia. A long-running parliamentary inquiry has been chaired by Amber-Jade Sanderson, the member for Morley, and most MPs have held well-attended forums across their electorates. MPs will exercise a conscience vote.

The opposition to this bill is very loud, but it is also very small. There is small but vocal opposition to the bill. It's not a debate about competing ideologies, which we do often have in the parliament, but there are a handful of people with strong desires who are trying to impose their ideology on ordinary Western Australians who so deeply want to see voluntary assisted dying legislated in WA.

Last week, along with hundreds of Western Australians, I attended the Dying with Dignity, Go Gentle rally at Parliament House. We stood in the rain and heard the most personal and heartfelt stories. People told of their loved ones' deaths and the impacts it had on them and their family and friends. These were not the dignified deaths that those who oppose this bill speak about. The stories I heard were of people losing their dignity—loss of control over their bodies, behaviour change, physical violence and intense suffering as painkillers failed to stop the loved one's pain and suffering.

A palliative care doctor said, 'The dying are witnesses to their family's pain, just as the families are witnesses to theirs.' On the weekend, I watched the video The Broken Hearted. It's available on the Go Gentle website. It is heartbreaking. Ordinary Western Australians are having to come to terms with terminal illness, the impact on family and friends and the trauma of dying. Make no mistake, 'trauma', 'traumatised' and 'torture' are all words used in this video, as family members describe the last stages of their loved ones' lives, whether that be years, months or weeks.

I just want to quote from a couple of the submissions received. The first one is from someone who talks about her best friend: 'Her quality of live was nil. She was fully alert and conscious but trapped in the prison of a non-functioning body. The last week of her life was a horror I will never forget. My dear friend's eyes were full of fear and terror. We requested more morphine for her and the nursing staff agreed she needed it, but, by the time permission was given by the palliative care doctor, hours would pass. She did not seem to get enough of the morphine to calm her.' Here is one other quote from a woman whose husband died in terrible pain: 'He was in so much pain by this point, even powerful painkillers like oxycodone didn't relieve his suffering. He was skeletally thin and couldn't eat or go to the toilet. He said he could not go on anymore and wanted to die. He called for a priest. He had renewed his interest in Catholicism in the previous years but had no qualms about choosing to die. He would have taken a pill if one had been available.' And, yes, most people applauded the palliative care that was available, and applauded the nurses who cared for them, but simply said that, at the end of life, the painkillers were not enough.

As a Western Australian, I am asking the small number who are opposed to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill—who include some Labor MPs and other MPs across the parliament—to listen and to act on the wishes of ordinary Australians, not because of ideology but because ordinary Australians clearly want to be able to choose the time of their death, to have a peaceful death, to plan their death and to be in a peaceful place surrounded by those who love them. Let's give those Western Australians this choice.