Alliance of unions, health and community peak organisations urge MPs to defend the VAD Bill against hostile amendments

A major alliance of unions, peak groups and campaign advocates are calling for the NSW Upper House to work together to shut down hostile amendments and to pass the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill with a final vote tomorrow.

Amendments have been put forward that – if accepted – would enable residential aged care facilities and hospitals to put blanket bans on their residents or patients accessing voluntary assisted dying laws.

The groups who will call for these amendments to be shut down include the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Council on the Ageing NSW, the Health Services Union NSW Branch, Seniors Rights Service and the Older Women’s Network NSW.

Dying with Dignity NSW President Penny Hackett says “We are very close to getting this important law reform passed in NSW.

“However, it is disappointing to see hostile amendments being put forward in an attempt to make the law unworkable and more difficult to access for dying people who face unbearable suffering in their last days. These are the same types of tactics opponents have tried, and failed, in other states.

“Religious bodies, such as Catholic Health Australia, Anglicare and Hammond Care, provide a large proportion of health and aged care services in NSW. They want the VAD Bill amended so that their institutions can ban access to VAD for the patients and residents.

“In the case of aged care, this would prevent a resident from accessing a legal medical procedure in their own home, a right which is enshrined in federal legislation.

“The NSW legislation, like all the other VAD laws passed around Australia, expressly protects the right of individuals not to be involved. These laws respect the rights of all healthcare workers who wish to conscientiously object. Access to voluntary assisted dying is voluntary for all concerned – both the patients and those who care for them.

“We also won’t be surprised if opponents continue to add a large number of last minute, hostile amendments as they pull out every stop to make the VAD law unworkable or cynically use the parliamentary process to waste time and ensure that the debate drags on for months.

“Terminally ill people should not be denied the right to a peaceful death because of political game playing or other people’s personal, religious views.

“That includes terminally ill people who happen to live in residential aged care.

“Terminally ill people should not be denied the right to access these laws just because of where they live.

“Please do not stand in the way of a reform which prevents terminally ill people from unbearable suffering at the end of their life.

“Every day matters – and we are hoping that tomorrow is the day that we get this done.

“The vote last Wednesday shows that there is a majority of MPs in the Upper House willing to support the legislation.

“This is a Bill that has the support of over 80% of the NSW community, it has the largest number of co-sponsors in Australia’s parliamentary history, state or federal – and it passed the Lower House with an overwhelming majority.

“We are calling on members of the Upper House to shut down any attempts at game playing and hostile, unreasonable amendments and to reject attempts by religious institutions to deny access to VAD for those in their care.

“We saw these games shut down in the Lower House last year, and we hope that the Upper House exercise the same zero-tolerance approach.” Ms Hackett said.

In a recent statement, Rev Simon Hansford, The Moderator of the Uniting Church (NSW and ACT) said in recognition of the deeply held theological and personal views, the Uniting Church (NSW and ACT) would not take an official position on this issue. But the statement goes on to say that Uniting are satisfied the Bill offers sufficient protection to residential aged care providers.

The statement quoted Rev Simon Hansford saying “We must remember residential aged care homes are exactly that – people’s homes – and older people deserve the same rights as those in the wider community. Should voluntary assisted dying become law, Uniting would not seek to prevent our residents from using it if that was their wish.”

Council of the Ageing NSW CEO, Meagan Lawson says “There should be no differentiation on access to VAD based on a person’s residential address. Older people living in an aged care facility should have the same rights to access VAD as those living in the wider community. This is their home. Their personal autonomy and right to choose should not be forfeited when entering aged care.”

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish says “A majority of our members support Voluntary Assisted Dying and agree terminally ill people in NSW should be afforded the choice of how and when they die. As health professionals, our members recognise those with an incurable illness should be able to request and consent to the authorised administration of medication to end their life, regardless of where they live. It doesn’t matter whether they live at home, a hospice, hospital or residential aged care, what matters is their eligibility to meet the criteria and their person-centred care is respectful of their individual preferences, needs and values.”

Older Women’s Network Chair, Beverly Baker says “It is unacceptable for older people living in aged care facilities to be denied access to the right to VAD just because their providers don’t believe it’s right for them. Older people who live in aged care facilities should not be treated as second class citizens. These facilities are now their homes, and providers should not be telling them what they can and can’t do in relation to their medical care and choice of VAD. It’s a personal matter which is up to the older person. We’ve had enough of providers not doing the right thing by their residents. This just adds insult to injury.”

Gerard Hayes, HSU NSW Secretary, stated that when we conducted a survey of HSU members on this issue, over 89% were in support of voluntary assisted dying laws.  These are members who work as Paramedics, aged care workers and public and private health care workers.  They are on the frontline seeing the suffering of patients.  We support the introduction of voluntary assisted dying laws on that basis and we support increased funding to palliative care.

The Upper House will deal with amendments on Wednesday, when a final vote is then expected.