20 December 2021

Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill Passes Lower House of NSW Parliament

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Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill

On 14 October 2021, the ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill’ was introduced into NSW Parliament, by Independent MP Alex Greenwhich. The bill is designed to legalise voluntary assisted dying, or euthanasia, for persons with a terminal illness in NSW. The bill also provides for the regulation of access to voluntary assisted dying.

The bill passed the lower house last month, following four days of debate, where 150 proposed amendments were considered. Several amendments were passed including to clarify and tighten guidelines for doctors assessing whether a person is eligible for voluntary assisted dying. Also, to add further resources to palliative care, including in regional and rural areas. Following debate, 52 MPs voted in favour of the bill and 32 MPs voted against the bill, including the Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minss.

The bill will now be the subject of an Upper House Committee, which will consider public submissions and hold hearings. Following this inquiry, the bill will be debated and voted on in the upper house. If the bill passes by a majority vote in the upper house, euthanasia for the terminally ill will become legal in NSW.

Current Laws in Australian States and Territories

In NSW it is currently a criminal offence for a medical professional or any other person to assist in suicide. A person who aids or abets the suicide or attempted suicide of another person is liable to a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

In 2017, NSW had the opportunity to become the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia. However, the bill failed to pass the Upper House, by one vote. That same year, Victoria became the first state to legislate for voluntary euthanasia and in September 2021, Queensland became the fifth state to legalise voluntary euthanasia. NSW now stands alone on the issue.

Response to the Proposed Changes

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has proven to be particularly controversial. Legalising Euthanasia has received broad public support. A poll conducted by The Australia Institute indicated that most Australians support voluntary assisted dying with appropriate safeguards. With 71% of the people in NSW surveyed supporting voluntary euthanasia.

Penny Hackett, the president of advocacy group Dying with Dignity NSW said it was a “huge relief” the bill had passed the Lower House, stating that “After 50 years of campaigning for this law reform, our supporters can see a light at the end of the tunnel and can now picture a time, in the not too distant future, when terminally ill people in NSW will have the same compassionate, end-of-life choices as other Australians.”

Many have shared stories of people close to them experiencing “terrible suffering,” suggesting that people with a terminal illness should be entitled to have some control over the end of their life and not experience excessive pain and suffering.

However, despite advocates feeling optimistic the bill will pass, the bill has met opposition. With opponents advocating for an increase in funding for palliative care rather than assistance to die.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be debated and voted on in the Upper House next year, it remains to be seen whether these changes will be introduced in NSW.

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