No relief for the terminally-ill

DWD Vice President, Shayne Higson (on left) and DWD member Stan Malicki with other supporters on the morning of the debate of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill outside NSW Parliament. Photo: TONY COLEING
DWD Vice President, Shayne Higson (on left) and DWD member Stan Malicki with other supporters on the morning of the debate of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill outside NSW Parliament. Photo: TONY COLEING

The feeling of being gutted is still with Shayne Higson, days after the devastation of watching NSW Upper House MPs vote down a bill to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws, by one single vote.

The bill was defeated in the Legislative Council, 20 votes to 19, just after 11pm on Thursday and Shayne was in the gallery watching it all unfold.

“We really thought we had the numbers … we had worked so hard and met with so many members of Parliament but a couple of Coalition MP's changed their position at the last minute,” Shayne, who is a Stuarts Point resident and Vice President of Dying for Dignity (DWD), said.

“It’s really hard – it won’t be back before the NSW Parliament before late 2019, at the earliest. We have to wait until after the next election, which is in March 2019.

“It’s a long wait, and for people like me, who are so close to the issue, I can't help thinking about the hundreds of people who will die badly because this Bill failed to pass.”

For us who feel strongly about this, it is about the suffering and people being denied the choice of a peaceful death. It is very hard to be patient.

Shayne Higson

Shayne said she could not understand why, with a Roy Morgan poll showing 85 per cent of people supporting the idea of assisted dying, “some politicians are so out of sync with the community … it’s just really puzzling”. 

The special snap survey, conducted on the night of November 2, 2017 with a representative cross-section of 1,386 Australians aged 18 plus, showed a large majority of Australians, 85 per cent (up 11 per cent from May 1996) are in favour of allowing a doctor to ‘give a lethal dose when a patient is hopelessly ill with no chance of recovery and asks for a lethal dose’ compared to 15 per cent (down 3 per cent) who say a doctor should ‘not be allowed to give a lethal dose’. (from Roy Morgan Research).

Shayne commended the nineteen members of the Upper House who supported the Bill, especially the five National Party MPs who voted 'yes'.

“We are very proud of National Party members in both houses because they have really looked at the evidence and listened to the people … some of them having changed their previously held views.”

Hope now turns to Victoria, where the bill has already got through the Lower House with debate resuming in the Upper House tomorrow (Tuesday). After that, West Australian politicians will confront the issue next year.

Shayne said for herself, she will step back from her work with Dying with Dignity and return to her role as leader of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party NSW and her new position as Deputy Convenor of the federal arm of the party.

“I had hoped we’d be de-registering the party but now it is clear we need to keep the fight going, I don’t feel there is any other way. Dying with Dignity is a lobby group and I feel we ran a good campaign, but in reality it comes down to the politicians and the numbers.

“We will make this an issue at the next election, something people will be discussing … we’ve witnessed a loss by just one vote, so if we can replace one of those who is opposed, then next time we might get this across the line.”

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