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Relief for some Western Australian families as assisted dying laws come into effect

About 60 West Australians are expected to peacefully end their own lives within the next 12 months under newly implemented voluntary assisted dying laws.

The legislation came into effect on Thursday after an 18-month implementation period.

Western Australia is now the second state after Victoria to activate voluntary assisted dying, which was recently also legalised in South Australia and Tasmania.

Under the WA scheme, terminally ill adults in pain and likely to have less than six months to live – or one year if they have a neurodegenerative condition – will be able to take a drug to end their lives if approved by two medical practitioners.

Premier Mark McGowan said about 60 people were expected to be approved to end their lives in the first 12 months.

“It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, the end of life of a loved one. It’s a very, very sad thing,” Mr McGowan told reporters on Thursday.

“But all we’re trying to do here is provide people with a choice and if they’re going through intolerable suffering they can choose to end it in their own way, at their own time.

“For many families, that will be a huge relief. For those of us who have lost a loved one in enormous pain where they were begging for release, this will be a relief for those people knowing that when their time comes, they can make a choice.”

Just eight medical practitioners have so far completed the necessary training to administer voluntary assisted dying.

A further 37 GPs and nurse practitioners are currently undergoing the training among a total of 95 who have expressed interest.

“That’s a decent number in terms of where we’re starting from,” Health Minister Roger Cook said.

“Many medical practitioners won’t undertake the training until they actually have a patient in front of them seeking the information. This will continue to grow as the program starts to build.”

Opposition regional health spokesman Martin Aldridge labelled it a “disappointing” start to a scheme which the government had ample time to deliver.

He said most regional communities would remain unable to access the scheme in the near future.

Implementation panel chair and palliative care physician Scott Blackwell said the training program had been nine months in the making and participating in the scheme was a “sensitive” matter for doctors and patients alike.

A person must make three separate requests to access assisted dying and can change their minds at any time.

To become eligible, they must have been residents of WA for at least 12 months.

Patients with cognitive impairments including dementia are not permitted to access the scheme.

More than 180 hours were spent debating the legislation in parliament, mostly in the upper house where it was heavily amended before passing in December 2019.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide can contact Lifeline 24 hours a day online and on 13 11 14. Other services include the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline (for people aged five to 25) on 1800 55 1800.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement can be contacted on 1800 642 066.

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