One option open to legislators is to include a “manner and form” provision in the bill so that if it were passed it would not become law unless and until the people agreed to it through a plebiscite, most likely at the 2023 state election.
That is what happened in New Zealand, where 65 per cent of people voted in favour of voluntary euthanasia at a referendum in October.
Ms Voltz, whose father is a Kiwi, said if Ms Berejiklian didn’t want the Parliament to deal with the issue then she should “let the people decide”.
“If the Premier’s problem is that she’s concerned about her own caucus, that’s an internal issue. The way around it might be a referendum,” she said. “It’s very hard to drive change in NSW because the Parliament tends to be more conservative than the community.”
Mr Ward declined to comment but referred to remarks he made two weeks ago saying he would need to consider the detail of any bill.
Last week Ms Berejiklian dismissed questions about the proposal, saying: “It’s not government policy and I would prefer that issue wasn’t debated given everything else we’re facing.”
Mr Greenwich – who played a key role in the “Yes” campaign on same-sex marriage – said he was open to a plebiscite on assisted dying even though it was not his preferred option.
“I have some experience with plebiscites. They are expensive, and politicians are elected to represent their constituents,” he said.
“But I’m not against anything that would move the reform forward and I think the result would be a much higher result than the marriage equality plebiscite. If it is the only way forward for reform I’d rather see it happen than delay any further.”
Polls have consistently shown about 80 per cent of Australians support assisted dying for the terminally ill. An ABC Vote Compass survey last year put the figure at 90 per cent.
However, many people of faith – including MPs – deeply object to the idea. The medical fraternity is also divided on the subject, with the Australian Medical Association officially opposed, arguing it breaches doctors’ obligations to do no harm.
The model favoured by Mr Greenwich would allow people to end their lives with medical help if they are terminally ill with a prognosis of less than six months, or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition such as motor neurone disease. Two doctors would need to agree to the procedure, and assess that the patient is of sound mind.
Assisted dying is already legal in Victoria and Western Australia. It will likely become legal in Tasmania early next year and the Queensland government has also vowed to introduce a bill.
Plenty of NSW government ministers and MPs supported voluntary euthanasia when it was last debated in 2017. However there is consternation, led by Ms Berejiklian, about the timing of this latest push.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic and the whole nation is working to protect the health and lives of vulnerable citizens,” said Liberal upper house member Catherine Cusack. “I agree with the Premier now is not the time to be debating euthanasia – I find the entire push inappropriate and will definitely not be considering this issue at this time.”
A Christian Right faction of the Liberal Party, called the NSW Reformers, published a newsletter called Two Cents Worth last week vowing to fight any move to legalise assisted dying and to hold Ms Berejiklian to her promise that the issue would not be pursued in this term of Parliament.
Michael Koziol is deputy editor of The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney.