Voluntary assisted dying legalised in NSW

Matt Woodley

19/05/2022 4:12:58 PM

While the laws will not be implemented for another 18 months, experts say there is much to be done before the end of 2023.

Independent MP Alex Greenwich
Independent MP Alex Greenwich reacts as the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passes the Lower House of NSW Parliament. (Image: AAP)

Terminally ill people in NSW will soon have control over the timing of their death, after legislations successfully passed both houses of Parliament following a protracted debate in the upper house.
Previous attempts to pass similar legislation were blocked in the NSW Parliament in 2017 by one vote, but the most recent bill appeared to have widespread support, with 28 co-sponsors across all parties – reportedly the highest number of any bill in Australian parliamentary history.
All MPs were allowed a conscience vote, with independent MP Alex Greenwich, who introduced the bill to Parliament, saying compassion had ‘won’ in the wake of the laws passing.
However, he also lamented the fact that people in the ACT and Northern Territory still do not have access to voluntary assisted dying.
‘Soon now, our focus must shift to the Federal Parliament,’ he said.
‘It’s incumbent on our colleagues, and Federal Parliament, to pass laws to allow the territories to be able to legislate for this compassionate law reform.’
Dying with Dignity NSW President Penny Hackett supported Mr Greenwich’s call.
‘This is an historic moment for people in NSW who have been campaigning for decades so that terminally ill people don’t have to endure prolonged and unbearable suffering in their final days of life,’ Ms Hackett said.
‘This bill will give an immense sense of hope and relief to many people with a terminal illness who simply want to take back some control at the end of their life.

‘Whichever party wins Federal Government this Saturday, we would call on them to overturn the legislation that prevents people in the territories from having the fundamental right to self-determination.’
However, while the bill’s passing was celebrated by some, opponents of voluntary assisted dying have described the news as a ‘dark day’ for NSW.
‘I am deeply saddened that the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 has passed the NSW Parliament,’ the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said.
‘If a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, the NSW Parliament has failed miserably and has set a dark and dangerous path for all posterity, determining a new and disturbing definition of what it means to be human.’
How will voluntary assisted dying work in NSW?
According to voluntary assisted dying experts Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott, the NSW legislation ‘reflects the broad Australian model’ of regulating voluntary assisted dying that has been adopted in the other states.
It will be available to adults with decision-making capacity who have an advanced and progressive terminal illness that will likely cause death within six months, with that timeframe extended to 12 months for people with neurodegenerative conditions.
Other criteria include that the patient is suffering, and their choice is voluntary and enduring, while two senior doctors – who have completed mandatory training – will need to separately conduct a rigorous eligibility assessment before the request is granted.
As in other states, a voluntary assisted dying board will be established to ensure the system is operating safely.
However, one difference of note in NSW is that a person can choose between taking the medication themselves or having a health practitioner administer the medication to them. In other states, although both methods are allowed, self-administration is the default method.
The experience of other states suggests that training for health practitioners will need to be ready early, and that doctors will also need incentives and supports to participate in the program.
In Victoria, 400 people registered for voluntary assisted dying in the first year, while in Western Australia there was also higher-than-anticipated early demand.
Professors White and Willmott believe the large population of NSW means authorities there should be anticipating even higher numbers.
‘Work must start now to ensure that as soon as the NSW law begins, there is a functional system ready to support people eligible for voluntary assisted dying,’ they wrote in The Conversation.
‘There will be patients seeking access to it as soon as the law begins. So the system must be ready.’
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