Voluntary assisted dying could be legal in NSW by the end of the year

A bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying in NSW has been formally introduced to NSW Parliament

NSW Independent MP Alex Greenwich speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney.

NSW Independent MP Alex Greenwich and Dying with Dignity vice president Shayne Higson (right) speak to media. Source: AAP

Nine years after watching her mum die a prolonged, painful and traumatic death, Shayne Higson watched as legislation that would have eased her suffering was tabled in NSW Parliament.

Independent MP Alex Greenwich on Thursday introduced a long-awaited bill that would legalise voluntary assisted dying for people with terminal illness.

Introducing the legislation he asked his parliamentary colleagues to give the dying "the choice, comfort, dignity and respect that they deserve".

The bill has 28 co-sponsors from across the political spectrum - including government MPs - and Mr Greenwich hopes it could be law by Christmas.

The reform would make NSW the last state in Australia to embrace voluntary assisted dying.

"A modern health system must be able to do better than to only offer the options of a cruel, painful and prolonged death ... and a violent and lonely suicide," Mr Greenwich told reporters outside parliament.

Ms Higson, vice president of Dying with Dignity, said the laws would afford people across NSW the option of dying peacefully, and surrounded by family and friends.

"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," she said.

"To die peacefully - that's all she wanted, and that's all thousands of people across NSW want for their loved ones, and for themselves."

A similar bill was narrowly voted down in the upper house nearly four years ago, but advocates are optimistic this time will be different. 

Dying with Dignity NSW board member Penny Hackett and vice president Shayne Higson (right).
Source: AAP

"My story is not unique," Ms Higson said.

"Since the last bill failed by just one vote... 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."

Both Labor and the coalition have indicated they will allow a conscience vote on the issue, but the Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns have made it clear they won't support the bill.

Deputy Labor leader Prue Car announced her support for the reform on Thursday.

"We look forward to a respectful and a mature debate in the parliament, for something that is a deeply personal issue," Ms Car said.

The premier on Thursday said it was a "poor indictment of society" that many people feel they have to end their lives this way.

He has asked Treasury to investigate opportunities to invest more in palliative care.

"It's incredibly important as people come to the end of their lives they are given the care and support they deserve," he said.

While supportive of more funding for palliative care, Mr Greenwich said it wouldn't help the people the bill had been designed for.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich.
Source: AAP

"The reality is this reform is for the people for whom even the best palliative care will not be able to help reduce intolerable suffering," he said.

The legislation designed by Mr Greenwich - who in 2019 also introduced the bill that decriminalised abortion - would limit access to voluntary assisted dying in NSW to people with terminal illnesses who will die within six months.

If they have a neurodegenerative condition and are experiencing unbearable suffering, that will be extended to 12 months.

Mr Greenwich acknowledged some MPs would object to the bill for faith reasons, but urged all his colleagues to listen to their communities.

"Poll after poll shows some 80 per cent of people across NSW support voluntary assisted dying legislation," he said.

Any genuine amendments to the bill would be considered, he said.

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.

Published 14 October 2021 at 6:23pm, updated 14 October 2021 at 6:33pm
Source: AAP - SBS