On Thursday October 14, the earlier announced Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 was introduced by Member of Parliament Alex Greenwich. At the moment NSW is the only state in the country where aid in dying is not yet legalised.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Sydney Morning Herald, award-winning journalist and novelist Malcolm Knox says that too many concessions have been made to opponents in order to sweeten the bill. Australian states have already passed laws that are amongst the most restrictive in the world. “What has eventuated in the other states, and what is proposed for NSW, is a compromise that leaves nobody happy,” he writes.
“Assisted dying became legal in mid-2019; Victoria’s law has 68 safeguards, the most of any in the world. The review found that those safeguards had been so restrictive that many patients were dying while waiting for access, were thwarted by unworkable logistics, and were discriminated against by the under-resourcing of the approvals process.”
Knox contends that conscience votes are not in the public interest. “Many of us would like to see more conscience votes, as they free the representatives from party discipline. But really, they serve only the major parties’ own interests, for there are some issues, such as VAD [voluntary assisted dying], that would tear the parties limb from limb if debated internally. Best for them (but not necessarily for us) if the debate liberates the members to speak as individuals.”
It is still early days – but if the bill passes, it’s possible that supporters will begin campaigning immediately to dismantle the vaunted safeguards. That is what happened in Canada.
The bill is backed by a record 28 MPs, including members of the government, crossbench and the Labor opposition – which is said to be the highest number of co-sponsors to a bill in the history of any Australian parliament. However, a new Premier, Dominic Perrottet, is a staunch opponent.