Jim McGinty

Jim McGinty

Attorney General; Minister for Health; Electoral Affairs

    Dying with dignity - laws to help and protect

    23/05/2005 12:00 AM

    Doctors who turn off artificial life support for terminally ill patients will be protected under new laws being considered by the State Government.

    Attorney General Jim McGinty said the current laws relating to the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment for the dying were uncertain.

    “We need to ensure that health professionals can legally carry out the wishes of a dying or permanently unconscious patient who has previously indicated he or she does not want life-sustaining treatment,” Mr McGinty said.

    “At the moment most of these medical decisions are made informally and without legal authority through consultation with families.”

    The Attorney General said the Government was not considering and had no intention of introducing, laws to allow euthanasia.

    However, Mr McGinty said the planned laws would enable an adult of sound mind to make an advanced health directive - or living will - to allow him or her to die with dignity.

    “Adults of sound mind should be able to make a decision in advance about what treatment they do or do not want if they fall into a vegetative state and those wishes should be given proper legal status,” he said.

    The proposed laws may also enable a person to appoint a substitute decision-maker with the authority to withhold or withdraw medical treatment on their behalf.

    “It means a person of sound mind could choose a family member or loved one to make medical decisions in the event that he or she loses the mental capacity to make decisions in the future,” Mr McGinty said.

    Western Australia is the only State without laws that allow substitute decision-making in relation to health care through enduring powers of guardianship.

    It is estimated more than 63,000 Western Australians - about three per cent of the population - are limited in their capacity to make reasoned decisions due to conditions such as dementia, mental illness, intellectual disability and permanent brain injury.

    “Many of these people will need another person to make decisions on their behalf because, either temporarily or permanently, they will no longer be able to make decisions for themselves,” Mr McGinty said.

    A discussion paper has been released for public consultation. Submissions will be taken until July 29 and it is hoped legislation can be introduced into Parliament later this year.

    “We want to ensure these laws are sympathetic and clear for everyone involved so the Government has no intention of rushing legislation in to Parliament,” Mr McGinty said.

    Attorney General's office: 9220 5000