The State Government is looking at new laws in the United Kingdom that protect the rights of the dying and give statutory recognition to ‘living wills’.
Attorney General Jim McGinty said while the Gallop Government did not support euthanasia, terminally ill people deserved the right to die with dignity.
“We need sensible laws in Western Australia to give people certainty when dealing with end of life issues,” Mr McGinty said.
“If someone of sound mind has made a decision to refuse life supporting treatment if he or she falls into a vegetative state, then the person’s wishes should be respected and that decision should be given legal force.
“A Living Will which states a person’s wishes regarding life support is something we are keen to progress but we certainly will not be moving towards anything that sanctions the taking of human life.”
The Attorney General said he was moved by the plight of Karen and Bill Spanbroek whose 29-year-old son Michael died after battling Huntington’s disease.
Michael had spent the final weeks of his life unconscious and kept alive artificially.
The issue had also been highlighted by the case of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo earlier this year.
Currently under WA law, patients can refuse medical treatment but there is uncertainty as to the civil and criminal consequences of any involvement in a person’s death.
Mr McGinty said the UK legislation established a simple scheme, which enabled adults to make an effective decision that if at a future time he or she lacked the capacity to consent to specified medical treatment, the treatment must not be carried out or continued.
The UK law also allowed people to appoint someone to make decisions about their personal welfare if they became incapacitated and provides protection for those people.
Medical staff did not incur liability for withholding or withdrawing treatment from an incapacitated person under these circumstances.
“The UK laws are a good starting point but we really want to have a broad community discussion about this issue,” Mr McGinty said.
“We need to ensure that laws are sympathetic and clear for everyone involved - the patient, his or her family and loved ones and medical staff.”
A discussion paper on providing medical treatment for the dying will be released at the start of Palliative Care Week on May 23.
Attorney General's office: 9220 5000