COVID-19 threw the issue into sharp relief, as it quickly became apparent that the restrictions would hamper local efforts to trial treatments already being tested elsewhere in Australia and the world. Ms McKenzie and others renewed their lobbying efforts, sending a flurry of emails to politicians.
By the end of March, the Guardian and Administration Amendment (Medical Research) Bill 2020 had been brought before the WA Parliament where it was readily passed, with a condition that it be periodically reviewed. The Bill allows researchers and doctors to make available new and emerging drugs and other treatments to critically ill patients who are unconscious and unable to make decisions for themselves.
Under the Bill, next of kin or guardians can give consent for participation in trials on behalf of such a patient. The changes also allow – in emergency circumstances – an independent medical practitioner to authorise research without consent, subject to strict safeguards and stringent conditions to protect the person concerned.
Ms McKenzie, a consumer advocate for more than three decades, said it was a sensible and significant development for the medical profession, researchers, and especially for anyone who found themselves or a loved one in a situation where they became critically ill.
“Western Australians should have the same access to clinical trials, whether for COVID-19 or other conditions, as every other Australian state and OECD country,” Ms McKenzie said. “This change brings us into line with other places and will benefit all critically ill patients in WA, not just those with COVID-19.”
Ms McKenzie said the push to update the consent laws had been a team effort, with politicians lobbied over many months by individuals and organisations including the Institute, senior clinicians, emergency physicians, the Australian Medical Association (WA Branch), and the Health Consumers Council of Western Australia.