NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying law commences

On Tuesday 28 November 2023 New South Wales became the final state in Australia to implement a Voluntary Assisted Dying Law. Dying with Dignity NSW welcomed the commencement of this compassionate, end-of-life option for eligible, terminally ill residents of NSW who are experiencing intolerable suffering.

According to Dying with Dignity NSW President, Penny Hackett, after 50 years of lobbying this important day brought mixed emotions for most advocates.

“There was a huge sense of relief and feelings of deep gratitude but there was also a touch of sadness, as we remembered all of the courageous individuals who shared their stories during the campaign,” said Ms Hackett.

To mark this historic milestone, Dying with Dignity NSW held a press conference at Parliament House followed by a private gathering to thank their dedicated members and volunteers who worked so hard, for so long, to achieve law reform. 

Dying with Dignity NSW thanked Alex Greenwich MP, the Independent Member for Sydney who introduced the legislation, the 28 co-sponsors of the law and those members of NSW Parliament who supported the much-needed legislation. Their heartfelt thanks extended to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Team at NSW Health who have worked so hard over the past 18 months to prepare for this day.

According to Shayne Higson, CEO of Dying with Dignity NSW, it was a day to celebrate because for many dying individuals it will provide enormous peace of mind to know that they can regain some level of control and if they choose to, they will have the option to die peacefully at a time and place of their choosing.

“We also took the opportunity to remember and acknowledge those courageous, terminally ill advocates who spent their last days, weeks or months sharing their personal stories to help achieve a law that they knew they would never be able to access,” said Ms Higson.

“Only a fraction of our supporters were able to attend the event on Tuesday so we displayed their heart-shaped messages, just one more time, so even those who couldn’t make it, were with us in spirit,” said Ms Higson.

For some terminally ill individuals, who have been waiting desperately for this day to arrive, it will come just in time. For others, who are still battling life-limiting illnesses, the new law will provide comfort and have a palliative effect in itself.

Janet Cohen has been on that journey since 2013 when she was first diagnosed with cancer. After successful surgery, Janet was cancer-free for two years but in 2015 the cancer returned.

Janet always knew that she would want the option of Voluntary Assisted Dying, if her symptoms became unbearable, so in the absence of any legislation in Australia to give her this choice, Janet applied and received provisional approval for an assisted death at Swiss-based Life Circle clinic in 2020. She then turned her attention to campaigning for law reform in her home state of NSW while continuing her cancer treatment.

“I’m relieved that new treatments meant that I didn’t have to take up the Swiss option before VAD became available here,” says Janet.

Janet doesn't know how long she has to live but she does know she will be applying for voluntary assisted dying as soon as she meets the eligibility criteria.

“It's about regaining a sense of control and autonomy,” says Janet. “Having this option has given me back some feeling of agency and now I can die in Australia, instead of travelling to Switzerland. I can now have my loved ones around me and go on my terms.”

Dying with Dignity NSW wishes to thank Janet Cohen, and all the other generous individuals who shared their personal stories during the decades of campaigning in NSW, when the VAD Bill was being debated in 2021 and 2022 and to mark the recent implementation.