Premier Dominic Perrottet has made an impassioned speech against a Bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying in NSW parliament on Friday.
Mr Perrottet invoked his 90-year-old grandmother, who he said was dying from pancreatic cancer.
The Premier said his grandmother was in “great pain” but her suffering should not be alleviated by “death, but care, comfort and compassion”.
“This debate is fundamentally about how we treat that precious thing called human life, and our answer to that question defines the kind of society we will be,” he said.
Mr Perrottet framed the debate as not about the details of how terminally ill people would be able to end their own lives but about the definition of the value of a human life.
“Once we accept the principle of this Bill, we cross a line, and nothing will be the same – as we will have started to define the value of a life.”
Mr Perrottet also said the government had “failed” to deliver good enough palliative care.
“We have failed to deliver that care. As the former treasurer, I take responsibility. Let me be clear: I failed in my former capacity as treasurer to address this issue,” he said.
“But as Premier I will fix it. We’ve made a start, but there’s clearly more to do. We will have the best palliative care not just in the nation but in the world.”
If passed, the high-profile Bill, introduced by independent MP Alex Greenwich, would make NSW the final Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
The Bill has broad support among many MPs from the government, opposition and crossbench, but opponents are found on all sides of parliament as well.
Many MPs were personal in their speeches, including Bill supporter Geoff Provest, whose voice broke when he spoke about his father’s final days.
“I only wish this facility was available when my father was ill,” the Nationals MP said.
Another pro-Bill MP, Labor’s David Harris, sounded emotional when he revealed his father had asked doctors to stop treating him and to increase his pain medication so he could “go peacefully in his sleep”.
“That’s not what he wanted because thought that was putting that responsibility onto (the doctors). He wanted to make that decision for himself,” Mr Harris said.
Labor MP Hugh McDermott, was forceful in his opposition to the Bill, saying it was “the most heinous piece of legislation ever introduced before this parliament” and said it would “normalise suicide”.
Bill co-sponsor and independent MP Greg Piper, however, urged his fellow members to set their personal opinions aside and to not “ignore the wishes of their own communities”.
“In recent years, all other Australian states have now passed similar legislation, leaving this state sadly lacking,” he said.
“We have a Bill which I believe is the most robust and the safest of any we have seen in Australia.”
Mr Greenwich promised when the Bill was introduced last month there would be comprehensive safeguards in place to prevent misuse of euthanasia.
Parliament usually doesn’t sit on Fridays, but the government agreed to extra sittings for the next three weeks to make up for time lost during the lockdown.
Supporters of the Bill – and a few opponents – gathered in the drizzling rain outside Parliament House in central Sydney to make their voices heard.
“Many people who are here have witnessed the traumatic death of a loved one, and that’s what motivates them to come out in pouring rain and stand here in support of the bill,” Dying With Dignity spokeswoman Shayne Higson said.
Mr Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns both personally oppose the Bill but have allowed their MPs to vote however they like.
Mr Minns explained his view on the matter shortly before the debate wrapped up at 5pm on Friday.
He acknowledged he was in the minority in the Labor Party but said he would vote “no” because he saw a risk people could be coerced into dying if the Bill became law.
“As we provide access to a voluntary assisted death, it is inevitable that some people will act to pressure another to end their life,” he said.
“It may be overt … it may be subtle … it may be deduced without a word being spoken, by a vulnerable person watching the impact that illness is having on family members that they love.
“The risk of these situations occurring is not far fetched or exaggerated. In fact, it’s acknowledged in the Bill on the very first page.”
Even if the lower house passes the Bill, it will likely not become law before next year because the upper house has resolved to have an inquiry into the matter.
Mr Piper said he was hopeful debate on the Bill would wrap up next week after two more planned days of speeches.
“Now, if that’s the case, then we can then start to deal with what is often a very protracted process, and that is dealing with amendments people want to put forward,” he told NCA NewsWire.
He said he and Mr Greenwich were concerned some opposing members could use “excessive amendments” to try to “cripple the process”.
“But we’re also mindful and very pleased that the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition have made their positions clear that they want this to advance,” Mr Piper said.
“They want it to advance to a ‘no’ vote, but they want it to advance – they’re not playing games.”
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