A majority of New South Wales (NSW) lower house MPs have voted to give terminally ill people the right to choose to end their lives, but must now plough through more than 160 suggested changes to the proposed law.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed by 53 votes to 36 in a second reading vote in the NSW Legislative Assembly on Thursday evening.
If the historic reform secures majority support in the upper house next year, it will make NSW the final state in Australia to embrace voluntary assisted dying.
Before it reaches the Legislative Council, the lower house is debating some 167 amendments proposed by both supporters and detractors of the bill.
MPs sat late into the night on Thursday and will continue their debate on Friday, the final sitting day for NSW parliament for the year, in a bid to send the bill to the upper house by year’s end.
Meanwhile, the upper house is holding an inquiry to the bill throughout December and will report back before the first sitting day of 2022.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, who’s spearheaded the bill, on Thursday condemned amendments he said had been put forward to ensure the bill would never pass or commence.
Dying With Dignity president Penny Hackett said advocates of the reform, were not celebrating a win for the proposed legislation yet as they were used to disappointment.
While Hackett is “incredibly pleased” that the bill has reached this point, she’s worried that the amendment process will “fundamentally change the nature of the bill in ways that are detrimental to dying people”.
Hackett is concerned that amendments could impose additional requirements for medical assessments, and increase bureaucratic hurdles and waiting times.
“All of which is put forward in the interests of extra safeguards, but the reality is that they are designed to and will have the effect of making (the laws) very difficult for very vulnerable people to use,” she said.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard was among the MPs to speak in favour of the bill on Friday.
The veteran MP had not supported euthanasia for the first 29 years of his three-decade career in parliament, but he said this bill was different.
Hazzard became emotional as he recalled holding his mother’s hand and asking her to squeeze it if she wanted palliative care, knowing that death might come more quickly if she did.
His mother squeezed his hand. She died the next day.
Hazzard said that voluntary assisted dying does not “remove the importance of the value of palliative care”.
“What it does do is give choice to those who are approaching the end of their life, to those who might suffer (what) none of us would want family members or friends or anyone to suffer, to enable that person to control their own passing.”
He also said he couldn’t withhold a right from NSW residents that Australians in all other states have.