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NSW becomes last state to pass Voluntary Assisted Dying law

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was passed in the NSW Legislative Council after extensive debate last night, by 20 votes to 17

“Next Wednesday, May 18, it moves into the next stage, which is the debate on proposed amendments. So there will be debate on the amendments and each amendment will be voted on one at a time, after which there will be a Third or final Reading vote,” says Labor MP Greg Donnelly, who voted against the bill.

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, lamented the passing of what he called a “kill bill”.

“It is incredible that the same NSW parliament that put our lives on hold for more than two years in order to protect the most vulnerable has now passed a bill that sanctions their killing,” he said in a statement.

“This ‘kill bill’ divides us into two classes of people: those whose lives are protected by the state with the resources of healthcare, social services and law enforcement, and those whose deaths are facilitated because their lives are deemed to be ‘not worth living room’. It is a dramatic departure from parliament’s solemn obligation to pass laws for the good of its citizens and to protect the weak. ”

“I fear for the dying themselves… who may more than ever feel they are regarded a ‘burden’ on others and ‘better off dead’.” –Anthony Fisher

Fisher said he feared the dehumanizing effects of the bill on the health industry where it might become more cost-effective, or expedient to push people towards death.

“I fear also for families, that this bill will damage family life, creating tensions where someone is taking a long time to die and pressures on everyone for this to be ‘hurried up’. And I fear for the dying themselves who are told by this bill that our parliament regards their lives as no longer inalienable, and who may more than ever feel they are regarded a ‘burden’ on others and ‘better off dead’.”

As amendments to the bill are drawn up over the next week, he called on all upper house MPs, even those who support the principle of VAD, to support “reasonable amendments to provide some limited protections for those most vulnerable and to ensure that faith- based providers of medical and aged care services can continue to offer a choice to residents who do not want to be associated with this lethal regime in any way. Forcing Catholic or other religious providers to have euthanasia on their premises amounts to a serious attack on freedom of religion.”

Labor MP Tara Moriarty, who said she is a Catholic, gave a heartfelt speech in which she said she wanted to live in a society where the protection, support and uplifting of our most vulnerable was paramount.

“I still cannot get to a point where it is acceptable as a matter of principle to put voluntary assisted dying into law.” –Tara Moriarty

She said in part: “Much debate and consideration has been given to ensuring protection for people not to be able to be coerced or pressured into choosing this course of action. It is certainly something to which I have given a lot of consideration. I have heard the arguments that have been made throughout the debate, and I actually think the bill has sufficient safeguards in that regard. I acknowledge that a lot of work has been done to put those safeguards in. I have thought about it a lot, but I still cannot get to a point where it is acceptable as a matter of principle to put voluntary assisted dying into law. My bigger and ongoing concern is directed more at something that we cannot necessarily legislate, which is how someone will feel at their most vulnerable point in life.

“I remain concerned for people who may feel like having to be cared for at their worst point is a burden on the people around them. They may feel as though death, or choosing death, is a valid or better option than trying to fight for as long as possible. To me, there is no safeguard or law that can be provided to make someone in that situation feel any differently. I can only conclude, in my conscience, that the best way to create space for someone to not act on that feeling is to not support the creation of a law that makes it acceptable for them to choose to end their life. Every life is important. Every life is worthy. I know everyone on both sides of this debate believes that. I understand that death comes to us all and for some in kinder ways than others, but I cannot support creating a situation where we as a community support people to make an active decision to end their life or hasten their death.”

Liberal MP Chris Rath who gave his inaugural speech on Tuesday, said his Christian faith had guided him in opposing the VAD Bill.

“The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill legislates State-sanctioned killing. A positive act is taken to terminate life, a decision which has irreversible consequences and is legally unprecedented in New South Wales. The bill must therefore guarantee that the State does not sanction any deaths which are untoward or the product of undue influence. This is of particular concern for my conscience. I am convinced that no volume of protections can defend elderly, isolated or disabled patients from being influenced, even slightly, to end their lives. A party close to the individual eligible for voluntary assisted dying could suggest or encourage its uptake, whether for personal or financial benefit, and the deciding factor in a vulnerable person’s decision to employ voluntary assisted dying,” he told the chamber.

“I am convinced that no volume of protections can defend elderly, isolated or disabled patients from being influenced, even slightly, to end their lives.” – Chris Rat

While he appreciated the intention of provisions in the bill to guard against coercion, he believed they were not strong enough to defend vulnerable people.

“Even with the bill’s proposed identifying pressure or duration guidelines and tools for medical practitioners, it will be impossible to detect such influence in patients who have been falsely convinced that the decision to opt in for voluntary assisted dying is their own. This is further complicated by health factors. The bill allows the terminally ill to opt in for voluntary assisted dying, even through gestures, outlined in proposed section 19 (3) (b). One must ask whether pressure or duress can be properly identified by a medical practitioner when their patient can only communicate in gestures.”

“The bill provides to those who are suffering and are as certain to die as medicine can assess the option to leave earlier on their own terms.” – Adam Searle

Summing up the views of the bill’s proponents, Labor MP Adam Searle said there was no credible evidence from jurisdictions with voluntary assisted dying that the law would lead to the elderly, sick and dying feeling pressure to nominate themselves for VAD against their wishes, as argued by Damien Tudehope.

“I have suggested that the elderly and the frail will have to proactively decide not to access VAD each day. Honorable members, that argument stems from a view that enactment of the law will fundamentally alter our society and the compact between its citizens, and move it towards a disposable, expedient society where life will be cavalierly set aside when no longer deemed useful by us, others ‘or even the State’, as stated by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and cited by the Hon. Damien Tudehope.

“While I understand that philosophical position and approach, I do not share it. A majority of this House have indicated in this debate that they also do not share that view. The bill provides to those who are suffering and are as certain to die as medicine can assess the option to leave earlier on their own terms before they suffer what they determine is an unacceptable quality of life, but only if that is their choice and not the choice of any government body, relative or angel of death nursing them.”

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