Nine years after watching his mother die a protracted, painful and traumatic death, Shayne Higson witnessed the tabling of legislation that would have alleviated her suffering in the Parliament of New South Wales.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich on Thursday introduced a long-awaited bill that would legalize voluntary assisted dying for people with terminal illnesses who will die within six months.
In introducing the bill, he called on his fellow parliamentarians to give the dying “the choice, comfort, dignity and respect they deserve.”
The bill has 28 co-sponsors from all political backgrounds – including government MPs – and Mr Greenwich is hoping it could be passed by Christmas.
The reform would make NSW the last state in Australia to adopt voluntary assisted dying.
Outside Parliament, Mr Greenwich – who in 2019 also introduced the decriminalizing abortion bill – said he was pressured into doing so after hearing heartbreaking stories from the community.
“A modern health care system must be able to do better than offer only the options of a cruel, painful and prolonged death… and a violent and lonely suicide,” he said.
Ms Higson, vice president of Dying with Dignity, said the laws would give people in New South Wales in her mother’s situation the opportunity to die in peace and surrounded by family and friends.
“My mother suffered terribly from end-stage aggressive brain cancer. She begged me to end her life, but there was nothing I could do, ”she said.
“To die in peace – that’s all she wanted, and that’s all thousands of people across New South Wales want for their loved ones and for themselves.”
A similar bill was narrowly defeated in the upper house nearly four years ago, but supporters are optimistic this time around it will be different.
“My story is not unique,” Ms. Higson said.
“Since the last bill failed by just one vote … more than 17,000 people have emailed their local MPs asking them to support this legislation and many of them have had even worse traumatic experiences than mine.”
Labor and the coalition have said they will allow a conscience vote on the issue, with Mr Greenwich also urging his colleagues to listen to the community.
“Poll after poll, around 80% of New South Wales residents support legislation on voluntary assistance in dying,” he said.
However, Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns have made it clear that they will not be supporting the bill.
“I think in a lot of ways it’s a bad accusation from society that a lot of people think they have to end their days in this way,” Perrottet said on Wednesday.
He asked the Treasury to examine “opportunities to invest more in palliative care”.
“It is extremely important that people at the end of their life receive the care and support they deserve,” he said.
While supporting increased funding for palliative care, Mr Greenwich said it would not help the people for whom the bill was designed.
“The reality is that this reform is for people for whom even the best palliative care cannot help reduce intolerable suffering,” he said.