Today we saw history taking place with voluntary assisted dying laws passing the Victorian parliament, a first for any Australian state. Below is an extract of a letter to the Lamp magazine by NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association President Coral Levitt from earlier this month:
With the NSW and Victorian parliament both currently debating Voluntary Assisted Dying Bills, it is timely to remember that an overwhelming majority of NSW and Victorian residents (over 70 per cent according to the latest ReachTEL poll commissioned by Fairfax Media, October 2017) support such legislation. In fact, polls for the last 20 years have been telling us the exact same thing. The time for polls is over – we now need action.
Nurses in NSW have always advocated for policies and legislation that promote social justice. It is our responsibility to use our collective power to advocate on behalf of our patients and the general community for legislation that promotes social justice. Legislation that gives terminally ill people the right to self-determination at end of life and also prevent their unnecessary suffering, is socially just.
Nurses provide very high-quality palliative care, and this should be available for all people experiencing terminal illness. Nurses will continue to lobby for adequate resourcing of palliative care regardless of the outcome of this Bill. Palliative care, for the majority, is able to alleviate physical pain and provide adequate comfort. Unfortunately, palliative care is not effective for all patients and this is why we need an additional option such as Voluntary Assisted Dying.
Many other nurses and I are seriously concerned about the findings of last year’s Victorian Inquiry into end of life choices, where it was reported that terminally ill people were choosing to end their own lives by starving or dehydrating themselves, or committing suicide by violent means such as hanging, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, jumping in front of trains or self-inflicted wounding with sharp objects. Suicide should not be the only option open to so many suffering people.
It is inevitable that legislation permitting voluntary assisted dying will eventually pass in one or more Australian states. I urge all of our politicians to take a more positive view on an assisted dying law in NSW and see it as an adjunct to palliative care options for end of life management, and not to keep putting it in the ‘too hard’ basket. People are suffering now. We need do something meaningful about it now!
Do you have similar thoughts on assisted dying? Let us know in the comments or submit your story here.