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Hunter MPs support Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill

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Nine years after watching her mum die a prolonged, painful and traumatic death, Shayne Higson watched as legislation that would have eased her suffering was tabled in NSW Parliament.

Independent MP Alex Greenwich on Thursday introduced a long-awaited Bill that would legalise voluntary assisted dying for people with terminal illness.

Introducing the legislation, he asked his parliamentary colleagues to give the dying “the choice, comfort, dignity and respect that they deserve”.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill boasts 28 co-sponsors from across the political spectrum – including government MPs such as Wallsend state member Sonia Hornery.

Since 2017, when a similar proposal was first discussed, she’s hosted forums and discussions with her electorate to gauge the community feeling on the issue.

“I am proud to co-sponsor this incredibly important Bill along with so many other members of the NSW Parliament,” Ms Hornery said.

“The decision to support it is not one I have taken lightly.

“But, I have been so appreciative of all of the local residents who have shared their perspective on this issue, which has so often reflected very profound and personal experiences.

“I support voluntary assisted dying laws and the right of people with a terminal illness to choose a dignified death without suffering.

“I want to be part of a compassionate community that affords freedom of choice to people at their end of life and respects their wish for a peaceful death.

“Terminally ill people in every other Australian state now have the option to die with dignity, so why should people in NSW be denied that right.

“My community has overwhelmingly supported this Bill with more than 95% of residents in the Wallsend electorate who have contacted my office, by phone, email, letter and social media being in favour of it.

“I look forward to hearing the contributions from all MPs on both sides of the issue in the coming weeks when this Bill is debated.”

Mr Greenwich hopes it could be law by Christmas.

The reform would make NSW the last state in Australia to embrace voluntary assisted dying.

“A modern health system must be able to do better than to only offer the options of a cruel, painful and prolonged death… and a violent and lonely suicide,” he said.

Ms Higson, vice-president of Dying with Dignity, said the laws would afford people across NSW the option of dying peacefully, and surrounded by family and friends.

“My mum suffered terribly at the end stage of an aggressive brain cancer. She pleaded with me to end her life but there was nothing that I could do,” she explained.

“To die peacefully – that’s all she wanted, and that’s all thousands of people across NSW want for their loved ones, and for themselves.”

A likewise Bill was narrowly voted down in the upper house nearly four years ago, but advocates are optimistic this time will be different.

“My story is not unique,” Ms Higson said.

“Since the last bill failed by just one vote… over 17,000 people have emailed their local MP to ask them to support this legislation and so many of them have traumatic experiences even worse than mine.”

Both Labor and the Coalition have indicated they will allow a conscience vote on the issue, but the Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns have made it clear they won’t support the Bill.
Deputy Labor Leader Prue Car announced her support for the reform on Thursday. 

“We look forward to a respectful and a mature debate in the parliament, for something that is a deeply personal issue,” she said.

Mr Perrottet admitted it was a “poor indictment of society” that many people feel they have to end their lives this way. 

He has asked Treasury to investigate opportunities to invest more in palliative care. 

“It’s incredibly important as people come to the end of their lives they are given the care and support they deserve,” he said.

While supportive of more funding for palliative care, Mr Greenwich said it wouldn’t help the people the Bill had been designed for.
“The reality is this reform is for the people for whom even the best palliative care will not be able to help reduce intolerable suffering,” he added.

The legislation designed by Mr Greenwich – who in 2019 also introduced the Bill that decriminalised abortion – would limit access to voluntary assisted dying in NSW to people with terminal illnesses who will die within six months.

If they have a neurodegenerative condition and are experiencing unbearable suffering, that will be extended to 12 months.

Mr Greenwich acknowledged some MPs would object to the Bill for faith reasons but urged all his colleagues to listen to their communities.

“Poll after poll shows some 80% of people across NSW support voluntary assisted dying legislation,” he said.

  • with AAP

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