The right for terminally ill people to end their lives is one step closer in NSW as the bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying passed its final vote in the lower house. If passed in the upper house early next year, New South Wales will join the other Australian states who have already passed euthanasia legislation.
January 16th, 2020. That was the last time that I wrote about euthanasia. In that post, which was written in a different world to the one we live in now, I discussed the arguments for/against euthanasia before providing my opinion. I spoke about my support for euthanasia legislation IF it requires the patient’s consent and maintains a faultless system.
To read that article, you can find it here:
In 2020, only Victoria and Western Australia had created legislation to legalise forms of euthanasia. Now, every state except NSW has passed a voluntary assisted dying law. The debate is no longer – should we legalise euthanasia? The question is now about how we ensure that the new legislation is applied accurately and upholds the rights and wellbeing of the patient.
Under the provisions of the current bill (which may still be amended as it goes under review in the upper house next year), a person may request a voluntary assisted death to a specialist doctor, which is lodged through the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board. This is a new board that will be created under the legislation to provide specific support.
The doctor (who must have completed mandatory training to cover legal obligations, the criteria, and how to identify signs of pressure or duress) can accept the request, which will allow them to assess the patient to see if they meet the criteria. The person must be an adult with a terminal illness that will result in death within 6 months. The doctor must also be satisfied that the person has the capacity to make the decision voluntarily.
If the first doctor is satisfied, the same process will occur with a second, independent doctor. Here we see the checks and balances to minimise any possibility of mistake. Still, after the second doctor also reports that the criteria have been met, it will be lodged again with the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board with a written request by the person declaring their intention to end their life, witnessed by two people.
I believe this law includes all the key elements to achieve the goals I mentioned earlier in the article – consent and thoroughness.
Possible amendments such as the requirements for a specialist doctor only rather than a specialist doctor or a general practitioner with over 10 years of experience would unfairly disadvantage people in rural or regional areas where access to specialist doctors is often sparse. The system needs to ensure equality and fairness as much as possible, and I believe that the current draft enables that result.
It is important to note that when the law inevitable passes the upper house next year, that doesn’t make the issue dissolve. Continued investigation into the effectiveness of the law and its implementation must be carried out as nothing can be overlooked when dealing with people’s lives.
With that in mind, I want to end on the same point I started my last article with on this topic. Euthanasia is terrible. There are no winners. For the patient, their family, the doctors, and any other parties involved, it can be an incredibly distressing experience. It is a last resort and far from a spontaneous decision. However, we must acknowledge that terminally ill people should have the right to choose how they die. That is what this legislation allows.
If you were in charge of drafting the voluntary assisted dying bill, would you make any amendments?