Voluntary Assisted Dying - Speech in Support of the Bill

As a co-sponsor of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021, it will come as no surprise that I support this legislation, which is long overdue. Currently, New South Wales is the only State in Australia without a voluntary assisted dying framework. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that a member of the crossbench, the Independent member for Sydney, rather than the Government, has brought this critical bill before the Parliament. I take this opportunity to acknowledge Mr Greenwich and his team for their tireless work in bringing this bill forward.

I support the bill because I believe that terminally ill people have the right to choose to die with dignity, on their own terms. For me, this is also very personal. As many members know, my father passed away late last year. What many members do not know is that he suffered for days on end in a hospital bed while his liver function deteriorated, to the point where he was in constant pain and he was too tired and weak to move, and to the point where he became so confused that he no longer knew the difference between his nightmares and reality. One of the last lucid conversations I had with him was about this legislation. He asked me point-blank if the voluntary assisted dying laws would pass in time so he would not have to go through what he knew was about to happen. In a discussion with me and his doctor he said, "I don't see the point of this."

It is already distressing to lose a parent, and it is so hard to see someone who was your rock slowly slip away from you, but to have to explain that the bill that could have made it easier for him is delayed and that there will be no respite is a conversation no-one should ever have to have. I take this moment to acknowledge and apologise to anyone else who has been fighting and campaigning for this legislation while a loved one suffered, to anyone who watched someone die a slow and painful death while this Parliament drags out this legislation. I am disgusted with the slow pace and the multiple delays of this legislation. Some people do not have time. They do not have time to deal with party politics; they do not have time for people to consider how the bill will affect election results. While the bill remains delayed by the major parties in this place, people like my father will needlessly suffer a long and painful death, and it is simply unforgivable.

I know others will talk about the fantastic palliative care options in New South Wales and the need to improve them. My father had great care and I do not fault the nurses in any way, but that does not change the reality of a slow, drawn-out death where your body slowly shuts down, and the anguish that that can cause, including mental anguish. The reality is that palliative care can do nothing to alleviate that. To be honest, I find the idea of voluntary assisted dying somewhat confronting. The idea of having to make that decision is terrifying. But late last year, as I sat in the hospital by my father's side, I realised that it is not my choice to make. It may never be a choice I have to make, but I cannot, justifiably, ever take that choice away from others. My dad did not get that choice and so he suffered. He would have chosen a safe, dignified death, and he should have been entitled to do so. Everyone should have that right.

Vulnerable people in our community deserve better. They deserve to be able to choose a safe, dignified death. And it is not just my family. My team spoke yesterday with the family of Kate, a woman in Victoria—her mother calls her Katie. The birth of a child should be a joyful moment in a person's life. For Kate, however, the birth of her longed-for child marked the beginning of the end. She was plagued with back pain throughout her pregnancy and, when it persisted after she gave birth, doctors discovered that cancer had spread throughout her body without her knowing, affecting every major organ except her heart. She was told she had months to live. Kate was 36—younger than most of the people in this Chamber. She lived in Victoria, but the rest of her family live in New South Wales, meaning that she could not travel to New South Wales to be with them during her final months because she was afraid she would not be able to legally die on her own terms when the time was right.

Last week Kate's condition took a sharp turn for the worse and she had to quickly make the difficult decision to take the medicine she had been prescribed to end her life, without most of her family by her side, as they were travelling down from New South Wales and had not made it to be by her bedside in time. Kate's mum told me that although Kate made her choice with clear judgement, she was always grief stricken not to be at home with her family in New South Wales during her final months, and she was often heard asking why New South Wales was the only State that did not have laws to allow people to die with dignity. The bill creates a framework to support voluntary assisted dying, following the same eligibility process and safeguards as bills passed in all other States.

I will not go into the provisions of the bill in detail, noting that they have been and will be covered by other members, and also because we need to move on from debate on the bill. I briefly note that the bill creates a right for terminally ill people to request and receive assistance to end their lives by the administration of a lethal substance through either self-administration or via a practitioner. To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying, a person must be an adult with decision-making capacity, have a condition that will cause death within six months, be acting voluntarily and not because of pressure or duress, and be experiencing intolerable suffering.

As with other States, the person must be assessed by two senior doctors who have completed mandatory training on assisted dying, and approved by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board, before they can take steps to end their life. I support this legislation because no-one should ever have to explain to a loved one that voluntary assisted dying laws do not exist in this State and that dying with dignity is unlawful. It is time to support people in the most vulnerable stage of their life—the time when that life ends. The best way to do that is by giving them that choice, and this legislation will do that.

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  • Emma Hurst
    published this page in Speeches 2022-05-31 13:59:43 +1000