Dying with Dignity NSW has welcomed the passage of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws in Queensland and is hoping that NSW Parliament resumes next month so that this issue can be addressed in NSW without further delay.
Queensland has just become the fifth Australian state to pass VAD legislation and the third this year. Victoria’s scheme has been operating for more than two years and WA’s law has been operating for over two months. Tasmania and SA passed VAD legislation earlier this year.
According to Dying with Dignity NSW Vice President, Shayne Higson, it’s now time for NSW to deal with this much-needed law reform. ‘Unfortunately, the current COVID outbreak has already delayed progress of the NSW VAD Bill because NSW Parliament didn’t sit in August or September but as soon as NSW Parliament resumes, we expect MPs to listen to their communities and debate the Bill that Alex Greenwich MP is set to introduce,’ said Ms Higson.
Compassionate, end-of-life choices
‘COVID-19 has stopped a lot of things, but it hasn’t stopped people being diagnosed with terminal illnesses or experiencing intolerable pain and suffering from that illness so it hasn’t stopped the need for NSW to provide the same compassionate, end-of-life choices as other states.’
Mr Greenwich released his draft Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill in mid-July to provide a period of consultation for his parliamentary colleagues and key stakeholders. The bill is a conservative model of voluntary assisted dying, limited to people who are terminally ill and whose extreme suffering cannot be alleviated. Mr Greenwich believes this issue can be dealt with this year.
‘Colleagues across the NSW Parliament are ready to debate this compassionate reform, and ensure people with a terminal illness in NSW are treated with the same dignity as those in every other state,’ said Mr Greenwich.
Someone who understands the urgency of this issue is Northern Beaches GP, Dr Sally Beath.
Situations where Palliative Care is insufficient
‘As a GP with over 30 years experience, I have seen many situations where Palliative Care is insufficient to alleviate end-of-life suffering,’ said Dr Beath.
‘Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) should be a choice to the small number of people, who face great suffering at this time from pain, inability to breathe, inability to communicate and dependency for all care. It should be an adjunct to Palliative Care, which itself is a fantastic service but it cannot relieve all suffering, in all situations.
It is an embarrassment, that NSW lags behind other states in passing legislation to legalise, with appropriate safeguards, voluntary assisted dying.’
The importance of all MPs being granted a conscience vote
Dying with Dignity NSW have highlighted the importance of all MPs being granted a conscience vote when this issue is debated.
‘It was achieving cross-party support for the proposed legislation that ensured that VAD laws passed in five other states, including most recently in Queensland where the Bill passed by 61 votes to 30. Here in NSW, it is still unclear whether the Liberal party room will support a conscience vote on assisted dying law reform,’ said Ms Higson.
Linda Pettersson lives in Willoughby and she has written to her local member, the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, asking her to allow a conscience vote but also pleading with her to support the VAD Bill after witnessing the traumatic death of a close friend.
‘While it would be nice to think that palliative care is sufficient to ease the suffering of people who are dying, the fact is that for some people, palliative care is not the answer. Their pain is so great that they need to be rendered unconscious with morphine in order to relieve their suffering until they eventually die. I have witnessed a friend die this way, in one of the state’s leading palliative care centres,’ said Ms Pettersson.
Unable to help a friend
‘My friend was 64 years old when she was suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. She had recently retired, bought a motor home and was planning to travel around Australia but the cancer diagnosis put an end to her plans.’
Linda’s friend came to Sydney to seek the best medical care available but unfortunately, that care could not halt the cancer, and within weeks, she was moved to the palliative care service in a hospice.
‘I visited every few days but unfortunately, I found her mostly asleep, thanks to the morphine. However, there was one day when she was sufficiently lucid but in a great deal of pain. She was agitated about not being able to finalise her affairs back at home, and then, realising that that was not going to be possible, she asked me if I could “help” her end her life. Sadly, I had to say that I couldn’t. That was a tough day. I remember staring out the window, avoiding her gaze as I refused her dying request. It was another two weeks before she passed away, around three months from her initial diagnosis. That was three months that I wouldn’t wish on anyone else.’
Reform is supported by an overwhelming majority
Voluntary assisted dying law reform is supported by an overwhelming majority of the NSW community – with around 80% in favour. Dying with Dignity’s petition calling on Members of NSW Parliament to work collaboratively on this law reform now has over 90,000 signatures.
Dying with Dignity NSW Vice President, Shayne Higson says, ‘For every day NSW Parliament delays passing this important law reform, more terminally ill people will continue to suffer unbearably at the end of their life.’