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Government and bureaucracy must now take swift action to make voluntary assisted dying law a reality

Catherine Henry Lawyers
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Government and bureaucracy must now take swift action to make voluntary assisted dying law a reality

Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) is now legal in New South Wales.

This is a welcome step forward in giving terminally ill adults the right to choose to end their lives. NSW is the last Australian state to pass such legislation.

The legislation was passed the day before the Federal election following a marathon 10 hours of debate of nearly 100 amendments. Most were voted down including one that would have given Christian based residential aged care facilities the power to block VAD taking place in their facilities.

The new legislation comes after years of campaigning by terminally ill people, medical experts, lawyers, and the loved ones of those who suffered greatly in their final months and days. As one terminally ill advocate said – the new law brings peace of mind, choice, and one less thing to be afraid of.

The Independent MP Alex Greenwich – the architect of the bill – said that “compassion has won”.

The government and bureaucracy now need to take swift action to make the law a reality. It will take up to 18 months for the law to come into effect. Learning from the experience of other states and territories where similar legislation has been passed will be of benefit – a body with oversight of the new legislation similar to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board should be established.

The Bill – subject to a conscience vote – was opposed by both NSW political leaders. Premier Perrottet has said the focus now needs to be on boosting palliative care funding. The need for better palliative care services was highlighted in the recently tabled report of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW. Here in the Hunter as in other regional areas around the state, we have had patchy access to palliative care – an issue that the late former Newcastle MP Bryce Gaudry campaigned strongly for in the period leading up to his death.

But palliative care is not a panacea. For some people, VAD will better serve their needs. The NSW VAD law will apply to adult Australian citizens in the final stages of a terminal illness whose suffering cannot be alleviated by palliative care.

So, we need quick action on both fronts – more and better palliative care and making VAD a reality.

This opinion piece by Catherine Henry appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 27 May 2022.

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