New South Wales Parliament resumed last week, finally harnessing the capabilities of 21st Century technology which allowed Members of Parliament to participate virtually in the sittings from their electorate offices.
New South Wales was the last state in Australia to allow sittings remotely, and I'm pleased Parliament heeded my calls to introduce this facility.
On Thursday last week, independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP, introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021.
This bill intends to provide legislation and to provide for, and regulate access to, voluntary assisted dying for persons with a terminal illness; to establish the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board; and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Only adults diagnosed with a terminal illness that will cause death within six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions, and who are suffering as a result of a condition that cannot be tolerably relieved will be able to access voluntary assisted dying.
The Bill is intended to give people control over the timing of their death, when death is imminent and they feel they cannot tolerate further suffering. Safeguards are contained to ensure the person cannot make a decision based on sudden or passing feelings.
The eligibility criteria include a need for the request to be enduring, and to be assessed by two independent medical practitioners. The person must repeat the request on three separate occasions, and there is a mandatory cooling off period between the first and final requests.
Doctors must assess a person's decision-making ability. If the assessing doctors have concerns, they are to refer the persons for a specialist psychological assessment to determine their capacity to make decisions for themselves.
This isn't the first iteration of such a bill; A version was introduced in 2013, and similarly titled bill was introduced again in 2017. The 2017 bill was passionately debated in the Legislative Council. The government allowed its members to make a conscience vote on this contentious bill.
That bill was defeated by just one vote, the final tally 20-19. As the 2017 bill was defeated in the Legislative Council, it did not come before the Legislative Assembly and therefore I was unable to vote on it.
Prior to the 2017 version of the bill being introduced to the NSW Parliament, I surveyed the communities of the Orange electorate as to whether they supported legislated voluntary assisted dying of those terminally-ill.
Of the thousands of persons surveyed, 80 per cent of respondents indicated they were in favour of this legislation. My conversations with many constituents about this bill reflected the relative accuracy of the survey results, as to the proportion of people in favour of this becoming law.
The 2021 version of the Bill has imported elements of the legislation which have successfully passed into law in five other Australian states. I'm broadly supportive of this new version of the Bill, and I am poised to support it on the basis that stringent safeguards are in place and that amendments do not weaken them in any way.
In no way does this bill remove the need for palliative care for the terminally-ill and dying in our communities. I am a passionate supporter of and strong proponent for palliative care. In partnership with the community, I successfully persuaded the government and the local health district to restore specialised inpatient palliative care services to Orange.
I'm certain that this Bill will involve some late nights in parliament, with passionate debate from those MPs both for and against this bill. That's democracy in action.