Terminally ill turn to ‘tragic and horrific’ methods to end their lives
PublishedOctober 11, 2021
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2021
Twelve NSW Labor MPs will co-sponsor a bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying as new coronial data for the state reveals that one in five suicides in the over 40s age group are people with a terminal illness.
As NSW Parliament returns this week after the COVID-19 lockdown with new Premier Dominic Perrottet at the helm, independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich will introduce his bill on Thursday to allow voluntary assisted dying.
The bill will be the first major parliamentary test for Mr Perrottet, who has promised his MPs will be allowed a conscience vote on the issue which is likely to be highly divisive within the Liberal Party.
Mr Greenwich’s bill will be co-sponsored by 12 Labor MPs, and also has the support of the Health Services Union and the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association. NSW is the only state still to legalise assisted dying.
There will also be co-sponsors from the government and the crossbench, who will be confirmed this week.
The data report from the National Coronial Information System shows that in 2019 there were 495 deaths reported to the NSW Coroner where a person died as a result of an act of intentional self- harm.
In 101 of these cases (20.4 per cent), “the deceased had a terminal or debilitating physical condition, or had experienced a significant decline in physical health prior to their death.”
Mr Greenwich said a “modern advanced healthcare system would not leave anyone to feel that their only options are between a slow, cruel agonising death and a violent and lonely suicide.”
Penny Hackett, president of the group Dying with Dignity which released the coronial data report, said voluntary assisted dying laws would give terminally ill people “the option to die peacefully at a time and place of their choosing, surrounded by their loved ones”.
“The unfortunate truth is that people with terminal illnesses in NSW are resorting to tragic and often horrific methods to end their life because their suffering has become unbearable, and they have no other options,” Ms Hackett said.
Central Western NSW resident Greg Connell’s 82-year-old father Cletus (known to everyone as Pluto) was terminally ill with cancer when he took his own life in March 2015, two years after his diagnosis.
Mr Connell said his father went into remission for a short period, but the cancer returned “twice as hard”, which saw him suffer a stroke and a heart attack. Cletus had long made it known he did not want a slow painful death.
“The last time I saw Dad I said to him ‘remember what your GP said – he said two years and it has been two years’,” Mr Connell said. “He took his life that night.”
Mr Connell said Cletus watched his father die painfully from terminal cancer in 1970 and decided then that he would not have the same death when his time came.
“It’s something that has been hidden in the suicide statistics because some people do not want to talk about it,” Mr Connell said. “Terminally ill people should be able to have their family with them when they die.”
Chair of the Black Dog Institute Peter Joseph said the mental health consequences of being denied a peaceful death can be devastating for both the person and their family and carers.
“In my opinion, the number of suicides in NSW could drop significantly if assisted dying was seen as part of assisted living,” Mr Joseph said.