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Monday, November 29, 2021

Voluntary assisted dying laws a threshold moment: NSW premier

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A week after visiting his dying grandmother in hospital, Premier Dominic Perrottet stood in NSW parliament to oppose laws that would allow her to end her suffering sooner.

The parliament is debating a bill that would give terminally ill people in the state access to voluntary assisted dying.

Speaking on Friday, Perrottet said the issue was something “very real and personal” to him.

His grandmother, aged in her nineties, is dying of pancreatic cancer.

“I sat next to her, holding her hand. I could tell that she was in great pain and that she wanted it to be over.

“I got a sense, as much as anyone can have, why those in such pain would want to end it quickly. So this debate is not abstract for me”.

But Perrottet said the proposed laws mark a “threshold moment”.

While the bill currently restricts euthanasia to terminally ill people who would die in no more than 12 months, if it passes, the premier said it opens the door for euthanasia in other circumstances.

“This debate is fundamentally about how we treat that precious thing called human life,” he said.

“If we crossed this threshold, this parliament should be under no illusions as to what it would do.”

He cited countries like Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands, which now allow people with psychiatric disorders, dementia sufferers, and newborns with a disability access to euthanasia.

Instead of the bill, NSW should improve the quality of its palliative care, Perrottet argued.

“I failed in my former capacity as treasurer to address this issue, but as premier I will fix it.”

While Perrottet will vote no, as will opposition leader Chris Minns, all MPs have been afforded a conscience vote on the issue.

Labor MP Hugh McDermott on Friday also criticised the bill, calling it “the most heinous piece of legislation ever introduced” to the parliament.

“We need to leave our emotional stories outside the door of this chamber and discuss the bill’s major implications for the … general prohibition against the killing of the innocent.”

Other opponents have also shared concerns people could be coerced into taking their lives through euthanasia, or that people may be able to game the system.

But Summer Hill MP Jo Haylen, one of the record 28 co-sponsors of the bill from across the political spectrum, said the legislation is packed with strict safeguards.

Two independent doctors will have to assess applicants, and the bill makes attempting to induce a person to apply for voluntary assisted dying a criminal offence.

“This is a compassionate bill. It is a considered bill,” Haylen said.

Palliative care is important but it cannot manage the pain of many terminally ill people, she said, citing stories from her constituents.

One told Haylen her terminally ill aunt, who was essentially slowly starving to death, was forced to take her life in secrecy in the absence of euthanasia laws.

Another wrote to Haylen about the “inhumane” impact watching family members suffer.

“The memory of my mother’s last days alive will always ignite feelings of anger, desperation and trauma that (she) could not pass away in peace,” Natasha from Ashfield wrote.

Nationals MP Geoff Provest – who has been in parliament almost 15 years – also spoke in support of the bill.

“We all come in here with opinions on life, some fairly strong … but I often sit back and wonder, is that why we stood to be elected as a member of parliament? Surely we we got elected … to represent the majority of our communities.”

Polling from 2019 shows the majority of people in every electorate in Australia want the law reform, advocates say.

Debate will continue into next year, after the Government and Labor agreed to refer it to an upper house inquiry.

NSW is the only state that is yet to pass voluntary assisted dying laws.

AAP

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