NSW is on the verge of becoming the final Australian state to legalise assisted dying.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has passed the lower house (Legislative Assembly) of the Parliament of NSW. It is now going through the upper house (Legislative Council).
Last night, a marathon debate went until midnight over the sensitive and divisive bill.
There were nearly 100 amendments to consider, most of which were voted down.
It is expected to pass the upper house today.
The bill was introduced to NSW Parliament last year by Independent MP Alex Greenwich.
“I hope members of the upper house respect the mandate the lower house has provided them with and respect the will of the people of NSW to pass this bill and I hope that time is not wasted,” Mr Greenwich said.
“Not only will that be disrespectful to the parliament but what it really does is prolong the unnecessarily cruel and painful deaths of some people with advanced terminal illness.”
What is the bill?
As introduced to NSW Parliament the bill, is “an act to provide for, and regulate access to, voluntary assisted dying for persons with a terminal illness.”
It seeks to create a working framework for people who are suffering a terminal illness to die on their own terms and with dignity. In such cases, the pain and anguish cannot be relieved by medicine or palliative care.
Is anyone with a terminal illness eligible?
Under the legislation of the bill, people must be 18 years or over and be Australian citizens.
They must be diagnosed with a disease that will most likely cause their death within six months – or 12 months if it is a neurodegenerative disease.
The person must have the mental capacity to make the decision voluntarily.
Eligibility will be determined by two doctors.
Who supports the bill?
Most Australians over 50, according to a recent survey conducted by the Council on the Ageing (COTA). The survey revealed that 74 per cent of Australians over 50 approved of voluntary assisted dying.
“COTA NSW supports this bill and the legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying in New South Wales,” a COTA statement read.
“The question of voluntary assisted dying is fundamentally a question of autonomy and agency.
“Every person deserves the right to make informed choices about their end-of-life care.”
Who is against it?
Understandably, it doesn’t sit well with many religious groups and pro-life campaigners such as Labor MP Greg Donnelly.
Mr Donnelly has put forward multiple amendments to the bill.
“A cornerstone of our legal system is that all human life has inherent value and must be treated with dignity and respect,” a petition statement from Mr Donnelly read.
“The petitioners request that the house unanimously oppose the bill, in any form, and reject it.”
There are also concerns over who administers the assisted dying process.
In an open letter to members of the NSW Legislative Council, Anglicare, Catholic Health Australia and Hammond Care said the scheme should be voluntary for both staff and residents at facilities such as aged care homes.
“The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 claims to offer choice in end-of-life matters, yet it fails to protect the choice of residents in aged care facilities who do not want anything to do with assisted dying,” the statement said.
“The bill has the veneer of protecting aged-care staff, but in fact does the opposite as it forces them to choose between abandoning residents with whom they have a long-term caring relationship or violating their conscience by being involved in assisting in their death.”
What happens next?
If it passes the upper house, the bill will be assented (agreed to) by the NSW Governor for it to become a law. The law would then come into affect in 18 months.
If it doesn’t pass this time (a similar bill didn’t pass in 2017), assisted dying will remain illegal in NSW.
NSW resident Sam Whitsed has been a vocal supporter of the bill.
After finding a lump in his neck, the 39 year old was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer six months ago. He was told there was no cure and to prepare for suffering in his final days.
“My world turned upside down overnight,” he told the ABC.
“There is a lot of suffering I would be willing to go through if I could come out the other side of it, but as I know I have no chance, the suffering seems pointless.
“I find it ridiculous that we do not give our citizens the same dignity that we give our animals.”