Don’t get sick in the Wild West
Last week, Western Australia became the second Australian state to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide, passing laws more liberal than those currently in operation in Victoria.
The change in law was celebrated by its proponents and its supporters as providing “choice” to those at the end of life.
However, the process that led to the passing of the law demonstrated how little interest those who voted for it actually have in ensuring real choice is provided to the terminally ill.
The push for euthanasia in Western Australia was formally instigated with a government-initiated report by the Joint Select Committee into End of Life Choices (Committee).
Ironically named, My Life, My Choice, the report revealed the shocking lack of palliative care available to those in Western Australia.
In its August 2018 report, the Committee found that “access to specialist palliative care in the early stages of a diagnosis might improve remaining quality of life, mood, resilience, symptom management and allow for death in the patient’s preferred location.”
But the picture for palliative care availability in Western Australia was grim. The Committee found that the state “has the lowest number of publicly funded in‐patient beds per capita and access to specialist palliative care is limited across the state.”
Palliative Care Western Australia had told the Committee that the low number of publicly available palliative care beds meant that wealthier and better-educated people have better access to palliative care, with services clustered in “areas of high socioeconomic advantage.”
The My Life, My Choice report went on to say that access to palliative care is further limited in rural areas and “almost non-existent in remote regions.”
Palliative care doctors in WA pleaded for more funding, pointing out to the government that WA “has the lowest proportion of specialist palliative care doctors of any state in Australia.
We have 15 full-time equivalents for the state,” they wrote, “less than one third the number required to meet national benchmarks.”
Voters backed the doctors. 75 per cent of WA voters, including 73 per cent of those who described themselves as being in favour of euthanasia, said that palliative care should be fixed before euthanasia was introduced.
This meant that the government had both the opportunity and the voter support to fix the palliative care situation. Rather than investing the additional $100 million per annum that palliative care experts said was required to fix the situation, the WA government committed just $41 million over a period of four years; around a tenth of what is needed to provide real end-of-life “choice.”
It wasn’t just the government.
Every member of Parliament had the opportunity to send a clear message that available, affordable palliative care must be a priority when discussing any end-of-life choices.
Two particularly egregious examples stood out, thanks to Nick Goiran MLC who, in the face of extraordinary hostility, did yeoman’s work in exposing the hypocrisy of this legislation.
Health Minister Roger Cook told media that the WA government would send mobile teams to regional Western Australians to ensure they could access euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Asked during the parliamentary debate whether the government was similarly willing to provide mobile palliative carers and interpreters if requested by a patient in regional areas, Disability Services Minister Stephen Dawson MLC said that the government was “not in a position to guarantee that”.
Get that? The government will fund a doctor to travel to regional WA in order to kill a person, or to provide them with the means to kill themselves, but will not do the same if the person wants to live.
Because they’re so invested in “choices,” naturally.
It got worse. When it came time for amendments to the bill to be debated in the Upper House, an amendment was passed that confirmed “a person who is a regional resident is entitled to the same level of access to voluntary assisted dying as a person who lives in the metropolitan region.”
Nick Goiran tried to extend this same entitlement to palliative care, attempting to amend the bill again to assure that a person living in regional WA was not only entitled to the same level of access to assisted dying, but also to palliative care as those living in metropolitan WA.
His amendment was voted down.
Bizarrely, the “right to life” has not only been diminished by the so-called “right to die,” it has been replaced.
There is nothing in this new law that ensures end-of-life choices for those in WA. It dictates that the only “choice” permitted is lethal drugs. Otherwise, you’re on your own. God help us all.
This article was first published in the Catholic Weekly