Local MPs co-sponsor Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill

Alex Greenwhich and Liesl Tesch in May 2021 with the Central Coast Group of Dying with Dignity

Dying with Dignity NSW has welcomed the introduction of the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill into NSW Parliament on October 14.

The Entrance MP, David Mehan, and Gosford MP, Liesl Tesch, are co-sponsoring the Bill with Independent Sydney MP, Alex Greenwich, and 25 other cross-Party MPs.

The Bill, which will give terminally ill people the option to end their lives at a time and place of their choosing, now holds the record for the highest number of co-sponsors to a Bill in the history of any Australian parliament.

Premier, Dominic Perrottet, has allowed Liberal MPs a conscience vote on the issue which has been Labor’s position for years.

Mehan said he was keen to see the Bill pass and it is expected to be discussed in Parliament this week.

“On the Central Coast there is tremendous interest and support for reform to assist those suffering a terminal illness and I look forward to working with my parliamentary colleagues to deliver this Bill for my community,” he said.

President of Dying with Dignity NSW, Penny Hackett, said this was a momentous day for Dying with Dignity and for their supporters across the state.

“It has taken decades of lobbying to reach this point and we are so grateful to (Independent Sydney MP) Alex Greenwich for leading this much-needed and compassionate law reform.

“We congratulate Mr Greenwich for working collaboratively with his colleagues from across the political spectrum as well as key stakeholders to ensure that NSW is not left behind when it comes to providing greater end of life choice.

“We encourage every MP to listen to their constituents because we know that there is a majority support in every electorate across the state,” Hackett said.

On the opposite side of the debate, Catholic Healthcare Australia Chair and former NSW Deputy Premier, John Watkins, is calling on MPs to reject VAD due to advances in palliative care that have fundamentally changed the political equation over the past decade.

“The idea that supporting euthanasia is progressive, and opposing it is conservative, is obsolete.

“Any thoughtful progressive should be worried about where the rush towards voluntary assisted dying is taking us,” Watkins said.

Chair of the Central Coast Group of Dying with Dignity, Stephanie Short, is arguing that VAD and palliative care are twin components of end-of-life care.

“We have so much to learn from end-of-life care in Canada in this regard.

“We should not have to choose between voluntary assisted dying and palliative care.

“You do not need to make a choice between VAD and palliative care.

“In Canada, if a person is planning to have Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), they can continue to receive palliate care.

“Likewise, if they are receiving palliative care, they are entitled to explore the idea of an assisted death or request MAiD,” Short said.

The road to introducing VAD has been a long one, as Vice President of Dying with Dignity NSW, Shayne Higson, said she had been campaigning for law reform following the traumatic death of her mother in 2012.

“My mum suffered terribly at the end stage of an aggressive brain cancer.

“She pleaded with me to end her life but there was nothing that I could do.

“I know she would have wanted the choice of assisted dying just a few weeks earlier to avoid that end stage.

“My story is not unique.

“Since the last Bill failed by just one vote four years ago, over 17,000 people have emailed their local MP to ask them to support this legislation and so many of them have traumatic experiences even worse than mine.

“We can do so much better and that is why we need this Bill to pass,” Higson said.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has also welcomed the introduction of the draft Bill.

NSWNMA’s General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said nurses and midwives had expressed support for a compassionate law to be introduced in NSW for many years.

“In light of the latest VAD bill, drafted by Alex Greenwich, we surveyed our members and found the majority agree people suffering from a terminal illness should have a choice.

“Of the 2,561 survey respondents, over 83 per cent indicated having professional experience in providing care to adults diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“Over half of those respondents said they had been asked by a terminally ill patient for assistance to end their life.

“This is a topic that comes up for a majority of these nurses in their day-to-day practice.

“Nurses and midwives have a duty of care to patients, and we acknowledge people with a terminal or incurable illness should have the right to choice at the end of their life.

“We understand not everyone agrees with VAD, but we will support members who exercise their conscientious objection, and this has been accommodated in the draft bill.

“Our membership is diverse and all their opinions are respected.

“This legislation ensures everyone has access to palliative care options and we will continue to demand proper resourcing, including the availability of suitably qualified nurses and midwives.

“Nurse Practitioners and registered nurses who choose to participate in VAD must be provided with education and protection for their work.

“Like everyone, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the debate, but we encourage all parliamentarians to support this important legislative reform,” Holmes said.

If the Bill is passed, it will allow terminally ill people with decision making capacity and in their last months of life and have unbearable suffering, the right to seek medical assistance to end their lives.

There are extensive safeguards including the requirement for two doctors to confirm eligibility and that the patient is acting voluntarily without coercion.

Eligible patients will have access to life ending medication which they can self-administer or take with the assistance of a healthcare professional.

Harry Mulholland