NSW Parliament Will Debate Voluntary Euthanasia

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A law which would legalise voluntary assisted dying will come before NSW Parliament this year, potentially empowering terminally ill adults to choose when to end their lives.

A cross-party working group is finalising draft legislation as early as next month. The group will then introduce the Bill into the NSW Upper House in the second half of 2017, when MPs will have a conscience vote on the proposal.

Political opposition

Before announcing his resignation, NSW Premier Mike Baird declared his opposition to the proposal. Opposition Leader Luke Foley is also against a change in the law.

“I worry about the message it sends to a society where some old and frail people feel that they are too much of a burden on their loved ones, that they have to end it all,” Mr Foley said.

Palliative care physician Dr Linda Sheahan is personally opposed to euthanasia; indeed, her work comes from keeping people alive as comfortably as possible. She has nevertheless criticised the rhetoric employed by political leaders, describing it as “miscommunication driven by a political agenda.”

Sheahan’s is especially critical of Mr Foley’s ‘euthanaisa creep’ argument. He research into other jurisdictions found no increase in frail, disabled or elderly people accessing euthanasia due to coercion or concerns over being a burden.

Support for the law

The cross-party working suggests that the old and frail people to which Mr Foley refers should be empowered to make their own choices. “The prolonging of pain, suffering, and distress, for both the terminally ill and their families, is not necessary; the fundamental principle behind the call for legislating to allow for assisted dying is to provide dignity to people who wish to pass peacefully and on their own terms,” its statement said.

In his address last year to the National Press Club, television identity Andrew Denton criticised the parliament’s failure to back assisted dying legislation. “On the questions that are most fundamental to how we live, love and die, religious belief trumps everything… [t]his is the theocracy hidden inside our democracy.”

Denton remarked that, although the public supports voluntary euthanasia laws, politicians continue to be scared off by religious “networks”, who are vocal and wield significant power because they are prepared to vote on a single issue.

Specific provisions

Although the Bill’s specifics are yet to be finalised, it has been made clear that it would only apply to terminally ill adults, and that two doctors would have to agree that the person is of sound mind and capable of giving consent.

Personal experiences of working group members

The working group is currently comprised of Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi, Labor MLC Lynda Voltz, Liberal MP Lee Evans and independent MP Alex Greenwich.

While the members come from a range of political persuasions, many have galvanised their views from personal experience.

Nationals MLC Trevor Khan’s late father was incapacitated by a stroke last year and, unable to fulfil his request of assisted suicide, the member watched his father die a slow, painful death. During a speech to Parliament last September, Mr Khan asked: “What is the difference between allowing a terminally ill person to die naturally by abstaining from treatment; and allowing them to die through means of voluntary assisted dying? Both are aimed at reducing suffering; both are aimed at providing dignity in the final days of one’s life; both have the same reasoning, intention and outcome. Both should be legally permitted.”

Liberal member for Heathcote, Lee Evans, became involved in the group because his mother suffered from dementia for nine years. He said: “At the end it was not pretty; she never wanted to end up like she did but there was no option.”

The proposal comes as the Victorian Parliament prepares to consider its own legislation in the second half of 2017. Victoria’s Labor Premier Daniel Andrews is backing the legislation, saying he changed his views after the death of his father in early 2016.

Public opinion

Public polling has consistently suggested the majority of Australians are in favour of voluntary euthanasia. A Newspoll survey conducted in October 2011 found that 77 per cent of Australians believe it should be legalised, with 18 per cent not supportive.

A voluntary euthanasia law would therefore not only allow terminally ill adults to die with dignity, it would be a democratic move.

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Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a lawyer with a passion for social justice who advocates criminal law reform, and a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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