Why I hope NSW does not embrace voluntary assisted dying

Voluntary Assisted Dying

When faced with the terminal suffering of someone you love, almost nothing else matters. I understand the pain. The renewed debate about voluntary assisted dying in NSW is personal for me – my mother died earlier this year following a battle with a terrible disease over a number of years.

There were days when I cried just wishing she would walk, talk or laugh again. It is also easy in these circumstances to understand how people wish it would just end, believing quality of life is over. I don’t agree.

In the last 12 months of Mum’s life, my eldest daughter was going through a marriage breakdown. It was heart-wrenching for everyone. In the middle of this, my daughter went to visit my mum.

She greeted my daughter with tears and eyes that shared the pain. When my daughter came home, she said, “I have never felt so loved.” It was as if my mum’s eyes had given her the hug she needed, the tears, the comfort.

Life to life. Soul to soul.

It was a reminder of the beauty and power of life. Surprising, connecting and caring when no one thought this was possible. This is not meant to say I wasn’t in anguish at times seeing Mum as she was.

In this debate, we find ourselves on the edge of what it means to be human and looking for an answer. Voluntary assisted dying is introduced to us; it looks neat and easy compared with the messiness and struggle of the natural journey to what we fear might be a difficult death.

But there is nothing neat and easy about agreeing to end a life, however, well-motivated the choice seems. Even writing these words reminds me why we would never consider these options normally.

I think if we understood what can be achieved by modern palliative care, delivered where and when it is needed, and if we stood back as a society and became less afraid of dying and the challenges it brings, we might realise that these moments can be a gift: as I discovered in the dying days of my mother.

Despite good intentions, I just don’t think laws can replace human love, compassion and ingenuity. When we lose sight of the intrinsic and immeasurable worth of every moment, for every human life, the laws put in place never protect in the way we hope they might. The unintended consequences can bruise, numb and lessen the spirit of who we are as a people.

I respect that those who advocate for voluntary assisted dying – euthanasia – are well-intentioned. I certainly don’t presume to know better than those who decide a voluntary death is preferable.

But I do draw on my personal experience, and the wisdom and insight of our many palliative care specialists, nurses, chaplains and social workers who tell me there is another way. One that we should be championing, not sidestepping. Continue reading

  • Mike Baird is a former NSW Premier
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