The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is currently being considered by the NSW Legislative Council. The Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on October 14, and five days later was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for inquiry and report – with the report due by the first sitting day in 2022.
Notwithstanding the fact that this inquiry was still in process, the Legislative Assembly went ahead with its consideration of the Bill last year, and the Bill was passed by that house with some relatively minor amendments on November 26.
There was significant public interest and engagement with the inquiry process. The Standing Committee on Law and Justice received 39,000 responses to an online questionnaire and more than 3000 written submissions. The committee heard from 75 witnesses over three days of public hearing in late 2021. The submission from the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church can be found here.
The report from the inquiry was tabled on February 22. The committee noted that there are strong and passionate opinions on both sides of the debate, and that there is no consensus among stakeholders as to the merits of the Bill. Given this diversity of views, the committee elected not to take a position for or against the Bill, and instead its report outlines the key arguments in support of and in opposition to it.
Christians should remain concerned about the provisions of the Bill. Assisted dying legislation opens the way for state-sanctioned killing, which (based on overseas experience) is likely to lead to abuse and expansion beyond its original intent.
The Bill before the parliament should be rejected, because it prioritises voluntary assisted dying over palliative care. Palliative care provides a legal, effective, holistic and ethical option for helping people with terminal illness. The Bill does not provide sufficient protections for the vulnerable. It is because of documented abuse of Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation in other jurisdictions – and the sad reality of elder abuse more generally in Australian society – that adequate safeguards are necessary to protect the vulnerable.
The diocesan submission on the Bill identifies eight essential safeguards that are missing, many of which were present in the 2017 Bill (which was itself rejected as inadequate). The Bill before the parliament is manifestly inadequate in this regard.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are contrary to the fundamental religious beliefs of many in our society. Although the Bill does provide some conscience protections for health practitioners, the protections for religious freedom are insufficient. The Bill requires a residential aged care facility to allow and facilitate voluntary assisted dying, even though the institution has a publicly available policy to inform current and incoming residents about its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
This fails to respect the rights of elderly Australians to choose residential aged care where they will not be offered voluntary assisted dying, and fails to respect the right of religious bodies to operate in conformity to their doctrines, tenets and beliefs.
These and other objections to the Bill were identified in the committee’s report.
The day after the committee’s report was tabled, the Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council.
There are limited time slots allocated for the consideration of private members’ bills such as this one. As there are no parliamentary sitting days in April, it is likely that the substantive debate on the Bill in the Legislative Council will begin in May.
This means that there is a limited window of opportunity for Christians to act.
Firstly – pray! We believe the Lord is sovereign over the actions and decisions of those appointed to positions of public office in this land, so pray to the Lord that our political leaders will make wise decisions for the peace and wellbeing of all people.
Secondly, completed this online e-petition – which calls on the Legislative Council to oppose the passage of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021.
Thirdly email, phone, write or visit members of the Legislative Council to share your views.
The Rt Rev Michael Stead is Bishop of South Sydney.