In a historic turn of events, New South Wales became the final Australian state to introduce assisted dying laws earlier this month.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, which was introduced to parliament last year by Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, includes legislation to “provide for and regulate access to voluntary assisted dying”, which would let people living with a terminal illness choose the timing of their death, establish a Voluntary Assisted Dying Board and make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Greenwich told City Hub that he was “really grateful that the majority of my colleagues supported the bill”.
Alex Greenwich. Photo: supplied.
“People in NSW with advanced physical and mental illnesses should have the same access to end-of care options as people in every other state. I am really proud that NSW has joined every other state in Australia in legalising voluntary assisted dying.
“I think it shows that Independents can deliver important reforms when they work cooperatively and collaboratively with the political parties.”
Voluntary assisted dying will let terminally ill ‘die with dignity’
The bill, which had already been passed in the lower house had its third reading in the NSW upper house on May 18.
Wes Fang, the chair of the inquiry into the Bill, told City Hub that there was “an immense sense of responsibility, and an ultimate sense of pride when we published the report”.
“I had previously been on the record as supporting the concept and the previous Bill before the Legislative Council, so I was determined to Chair the Inquiry in an impartial manner and not prejudice the report.”
While terminally ill people might not follow through with assisted dying, Fang said that it is the “comfort of the knowledge that they can relieve that pain should it be too much”.
The Bill previously failed to pass by one vote in the NSW Upper House in 2017. Supporters of the bill stood outside the NSW Parliament this year in March with ‘They Died Waiting’ placards. After a long and hard fight, Greenwich called the day a victory for compassion.
Terminally ill people to get a new and meaningful choice
Adam Searle, a Member of the NSW Legislative Council, said that “as people approach the end of their lives due to a terminal illness or condition, they should have all options before them”.
Adam Searle. Photo: NSW Parliament.
“They should have high-quality palliative care for those who choose and for those for whom it is appropriate,” Searle, who steered the Bill through a number of last-minute amendments, said.
“This Bill will give people nearing death the choice to go earlier at a time of their own choosing in a way that is safe and legal and where they can be surrounded by their families and their loved ones rather than face this painful uncertain end which will be distressing for everybody.”
Searle also mentioned that “losing bodily autonomy, dignity, and their sense of themselves” can be agonising, adding that voluntary assisted dying would provide a “new and meaningful choice” for terminally ill people “who are facing a very painful end”.
“There are a lot of things to get ready for. The Health Secretary has to set out all the training for the doctors,” Searle said. “Eighteen months is quite a short period of time to do that, but I do recognise that it is 18 more months for people who have to wait.”
Terminally ill patients fought to see Bill pass
People facing terminal illnesses that have been campaigning for this Bill include Siobhan O’Sullivan, who was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2020, and Sara Wright, who was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease more than two years ago. Some other advocates, including Belinda Ryan and Tim Edwards, passed away before the Bill was passed.
“Today was an important day for everybody in NSW facing a painful death. NSW is the final state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying. I was honoured to be in NSW Parliament to see this important law pass,” Sullivan said.
“I’m disappointed, frustrated and anxious, because my condition is deteriorating all the time and I don’t think it’ll come into effect quickly enough to help me in my situation,” Sara Wright told NCA NewsWire.
The NSW Upper House passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill on May 19.