NSW stands alone on voluntary euthanasia after historic bill passed in Queensland

© ABC Judith Daley has declined chemotherapy and wants control for when living will “no longer be tolerable”.

New South Wales could have been the first state to legalise voluntary assisted dying (VAD) but now stands alone on the issue after Queensland passed its own euthanasia bill this week.

In 2017, NSW had the opportunity to become the first Australian jurisdiction to legislate VAD, but the bill failed to pass in the Upper House by just one vote.

Victoria, just days later, became the first to pass this historic milestone and on Thursday, Queensland became the fifth state to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich will next month introduce — with support from across the political divide — another VAD bill when state parliament resumes.

Shayne Higson, the vice-president of euthanasia advocacy group Dying with Dignity NSW, said she was “thrilled” to see the sunshine state pass the VAD bill, especially with a 61 to 30 majority.

“These laws are much needed, they’re compassionate, we’re very happy the bill also got through without being amended,” Ms Higson said.

Opponents who voted against the legislation in 2017, including NSW Labor’s Hugh McDermott and Christian Democratic Party (CPD) founder Fred Nile, told the ABC they would fight the bill again.

“I don’t see any change, any real difference between now and then,” Mr McDermott said.

“Putting a situation into legislation, where you can nominate to commit suicide, is just unacceptable, in my opinion.”

Reverend Nile said he was disappointed by Queensland and said it sent a “dangerous statement”.

People with chronic illnesses, and others directly impacted by the bill, will be watching the debates closely.

Sydney woman Judith Daley has been in-and-out of hospital over 50 times since being diagnosed with chronic inflammatory lung disease (COPD) 20 years ago and lung cancer years later.

The 77-year-old from the inner-city Sydney suburb of Alexandria, and board member for Dying with Dignity NSW, has undergone radiotherapy treatment over 32 times and when doctors offered chemotherapy again, she declined.

“My oncologist said there was between 5 and 10 per cent chance that the chemotherapy would work,” Ms Daley said.

“But there was between 10 and 20 per cent chance that I’d end up back in hospital. I don’t like those odds so I’ve elected not to have it.”

Ms Daley said she didn’t want to die but knows there may come a day where living would be “no longer tolerable”.

“At the moment, I don’t want to die. I’ve had a wonderful life and I’m still very hopeful it can improve after the surgery I had in August,” she said.

“But … I don’t know when I’m suddenly going to get much worse and I want the control, to know that I can do something about that.”

Voluntary euthanasia in Australia has overwhelming support within the community, according to several surveys.

A Roy Morgan poll commissioned by Dying with Dignity in 2017 found 87 per cent of Australians supported “letting patients die” if they were “hopelessly ill” or “experiencing unbelievable suffering”.

These figures were supported by a 2019 ABC Vote Compass survey which saw overwhelming support for euthanasia, regardless of political or religious affiliation.

The Western Sydney electorates of Blaxland, McMahon and Parramatta were the least in favour of assisted dying, according to Vote Compass data.

Mr McDermott, whose electorate of Prospect also crosses into Sydney’s west, said his constituents wrote to him regularly expressing opposition to VAD.

“Despite what the pro-euthanasia groups are saying, there is significant resistance for these laws,” he said.

Like many in the debate, Mr McDermott’s position was deeply personal. When his father was diagnosed with cancer, he had expressed a desire to be voluntarily euthanased.

“He lasted a couple of months and in that time he reconciled with many members of the family, he put his affairs in order,” Mr McDermott said.

“He fought it through to the end.”

Ms Higson from Dying with Dignity, however, said person “deserves the right to a peaceful death”.

“Another benefit is it would allow these people to not reach such a desperate stage and to be able to have an open and honest conversation with doctors and their families,” she said.

State parliament has not sat since June due to the Delta outbreak and bill’s sponsor, Mr Greenwich, has used this time to make further amendments.

A revised bill is expected to have provisions not seen anywhere else in country including enhanced communication and support for aged care residents.

The Nationals MP who introduced the bill four years ago, Trevor Khan, said the passing of the bill would be “inevitable”, if not this round then certainly the next.

“There’s a lot of cross party support this time, but numbers are very hard to precisely gauge,” Mr Khan said.

“I think it’ll be close.”

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