'Act now' to sign petition against assisted suicide

Labor MP Greg Donnelly has urged residents of NSW to “act now” to sign an e-Petition that calls on the upper house of state parliament to reject the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill 2021.

“We’re working very hard to defeat the bill. People need to act now and sign the petition,” he told Eternity.

The bill passed the lower house by 22 votes last year after which it was referred to the Legislative Council Law and Justice Committee, which held a three-day hearing in November. After considering more than 3000 written submissions along with 30,000 shorter comments via the inquiry portal, the committee is due to table its report on 22nd February.

Donnelly, a member of the committee, said the vote on the bill would be “very tightly contested” when it was debated in the upper house.

Opponents of the VAD bill hope to attract 100,000 signatures on the e-Petition calling for the unanimous rejection of the bill in any form – enough to cancel out the number of signatures collected by Dying with Dignity last year in support of Alex Greenwich’s VAD bill.  At the moment, a counter e-Petition set up by the Greens to urge passage of the bill has more signatures than Donnelly’s e-Petition – at the latest count, 11,364 compared to 10,122.

“It is important that we maximise participation in this important e-Petition. Don’t put it off until later – it only takes two to three minutes to complete, sign it, pass it on and promote it as far and wide as you can,” Donnelly said.

“A legal right to have another person – a physician no less – assist in your death affects everyone.” – Kanishka Raffel

Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel and Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead have also urged NSW residents to sign the e-Petition.

Raffel said the bill “is a momentous shift in medical practice and community expectation”.

“To legislate for a person to request their doctor to assist them to die fundamentally alters the doctor-patient relationship,” the Archbishop said. “The way of arguing – ‘if you don’t choose it, it won’t affect you’ – is naïve. It neglects the way in which practices form culture, the way laws create values. A legal right to have another person – a physician no less – assist in your death affects everyone precisely because it is a matter of public law.”

Donnelly, a member of St Agatha’s Catholic Church in Pennant Hills, said most proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia were swayed by examples of people having difficult deaths. However, there were many compelling arguments as to why this legislative change should be opposed.

“To actually change the law to permit assisted suicide or euthanasia in effect is normalising these acts and saying they are okay,” he said.

“Once you decide as a society to effect the change to believe there is good assisted suicide or euthanasia, how does one logically hold the line on it over time? You can’t draw an artificial line – and this is what has happened overseas … One only has to look at what has happened in Belgium and the Netherlands to see how the eligibility for access has expanded over time.”

“The possibility of coercion is very much a clear and present danger for elderly and vulnerable people.” – Greg Donnelly

He said the VAD Bill cannot guarantee that a person, particularly a vulnerable person, will not be coerced into considering assisted suicide or euthanasia, an irony considering NSW has pledged to outlaw coercive control and seek to prevent elder abuse.

“I don’t think one needs a lot of imagination to think … the possibility of coercion is very much a clear and present danger for elderly and vulnerable people,” he said.

Other reasons for caution included the possibility of errors by medical professionals in the diagnosis and prognosis of patients and the inability of enforcing safeguards in the legislation.

“These are all reasons that should caution everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, to be very, very concerned about the consequences of these laws, particularly on the common good of society,” he said.

“These all have to be laid out and put against the very individualist argument that ‘I have this right to have the state provide a legal framework for me to access assisted suicide or euthanasia’.”

The tragedy was, he said, that people might be drawn into making a request to end their life because of a significant deficiency in the provision of palliative and end-of-life care in Australia.

“That’s a fact. And, in fact, it becomes more extreme the further you get away from major population centres. If that’s the case, clearly efforts should be being made to significantly improve the access and availability of palliative and end-of-life care to our citizens as our first priority before even considering these types of laws,” he said.

“Because if there isn’t access to palliative and end-of-life care for our citizens, what does become available is access to assisted suicide and euthanasia, and there is the very clear and present danger of people either going down that path or being drawn down that path because they don’t have the access to palliative and end-of-life care.

“That’s an excruciating thing to contemplate when we know we don’t provide sufficient care at the end of life, and how utterly tragic it is that the passing of laws like this in effect result in people considering assisted suicide and euthanasia because they can’t access palliative and end-of-life care. I consider it a reprehensible thing to be considering because we know what good quality palliative care can do – it can relieve pain.”

He said the body of evidence tragically demonstrated the level of elder abuse in this country and “it’s just horrifying to contemplate these laws which will very much put our elderly, our frail, and people with disability in the frame.”