Advocacy group Dying With Dignity NSW also launches a campaign today and a petition to NSW Parliament asking MPs “to work together” to pass voluntary assisted dying laws in 2021.
The group’s president Penny Hackett said polls consistently showed about 85 per cent of the state supported assisted dying and it was politicians’ duty to listen to that substantial majority.
“There is no MP that can say their electorate would not want them to vote for this,” she said. “It’s seen as a hot potato [politically], but it’s not a hot potato as far as the electorate is concerned.”
The model Mr Greenwich proposes would allow assisted dying for terminally ill patients whose prognosis indicates death in the next six months – or 12 months for neurodegenerative illnesses such as motor neurone disease.
It would need to be approved by two doctors, but unlike the Victorian version, the second doctor would not need to be a specialist. The WA model also allows nurse practitioners to administer the medicine, as well as doctors and the patient themselves.
In another key difference, the model preferred by Mr Greenwich and advocates allows doctors to raise the issue of assisted dying with their patients, as long as they also raise other options such as palliative care. In Victoria, the patient must instigate the discussion of an assisted death.
Scott Riddle, a 38-year-old father-of-three from Thornleigh in Sydney’s north, was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2017. He undertook chemotherapy and radiation, as well as an 11-hour surgery to remove a portion of his bowel and half his liver, but the cancer returned.
After a second operation in January 2019, Mr Riddle is currently cancer-free, but he is still in a “high-risk window” and wants the option of an assisted death should his cancer return and his condition seriously decline.
“When there’s already so much that you can’t control about your disease and your circumstances, just being able to know that you can manage the end offers a huge degree of comfort,” he says.
“The fear of the unknown just grows and grows. And it just seems so unnecessary because all you really need to know is if it does head in that direction, you have an option. That optionality is so powerful.”
Ms Hackett said: “This is about allowing people to live the life that they have left without the fear of what might happen at the end. It provides peace of mind.”
Mr Riddle appears in Dying With Dignity’s campaign. He says his attitude has grown from one of disappointment with legal inaction to anger and frustration over MPs kowtowing to pressure.
“We’re not talking about a big legislative innovation; other jurisdictions around the world have had this for decades and it has been working perfectly fine,” he says. “It’s a super-urgent problem, and I see that urgency every day. And there’s a solution sitting right there on the table.”
Action is underway in other states. Queensland’s recently re-elected Labor government promised to introduce a bill to legalise assisted dying as soon as February, and Liberal-controlled Tasmania has a voluntary euthanasia bill before Parliament which is due for a final vote in March.
Mr Greenwich has a strong track record on major social reforms, having introduced the bill that decriminalised abortion in NSW last year. He was also instrumental in the federal campaign to legalise same-sex marriage.
His bill will face likely opposition from churches as well as the Australian Medical Association, which remains opposed to voluntary euthanasia despite some members splintering. The Royal Australian College of GPs and Palliative Care Australia have taken neutral positions, with the RACGP acknowledging assisted death as a legitimate option sought by patients.
MPs normally have a conscience vote on euthanasia bills. In 2017, after a marathon debate in the NSW upper house, a bill introduced by Nationals member Trevor Khan was defeated by one vote. It was not tested in the lower house.
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Michael Koziol is deputy editor of The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney.