Member for Wagga Wagga says no to Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill
The NSW Member for Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr, has joined Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns in denouncing the proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
Dr McGirr issued a statement saying after many months of careful thought and reflection he will not be supporting the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill currently being debated in NSW Parliament.
Dr McGirr is an independent MP and was a physician by trade before joining politics and former associate dean of the University of Notre Dame Australia.
Dr McGirr, who spoke last Friday during the debate, said he has received an enormous amount of feedback from the electorate in relation to the bill in recent months.
“In representations to my office, there has been a relatively even split between people who are in favour of the legislation and those who are opposed to it,” he said.
“I have carefully considered the views of constituents who have made contact with me on this issue and I want to thank all those who wrote or messaged me and especially those who gave their time to meet with me.
“In order to respect the significant feedback I have received, I am keen to outline the factors that were key to my decision.”
Dr McGirr believes the heart of the issue is the vital importance of good palliative care.
“The debate has been framed around two options: Voluntary assisted dying or suffering. But there is an alternative, palliative care. This has been absent from the argument to this point,” he said.
“Palliative care is not just caring of the dying and it isn’t just about the physical. Palliative care comes early on in a life-limiting illness and it includes emotional and spiritual support. Palliative care steps in when medicine says ‘there is no more we can do’.
Dr McGirr is concerned that passing the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will deepen the divide in health services between rural and city areas.
“Rural access to palliative care is not the equivalent of those in metropolitan centres and I am concerned the availability of euthanasia will sadly be seen as an alternative by people living in those communities,” he said.
“If voluntary assisted dying becomes legal, all NSW citizens will have access to it, yet not all citizens have access to quality palliative care.
"I welcome the Premier’s commitment to building a world-class palliative care system and I implore him to make sure that access to palliative care in rural and regional areas is as good as in the best metropolitan areas.”
Dr McGirr’s concerns about the bill are not limited to the lack of good quality palliative care. He said he believes passing the bill would send a contradictory message to the community on suicide.
“It doesn’t matter how stringent or limited the conditions are, we are crossing a threshold in the way we regard human life. This is not about letting someone die, this is about allowing people to take their own lives,” Dr McGirr said.
“I am concerned we run the risk of normalising suicide as a response to despair.”
Dr McGirr is also concerned that if the bill is passed, there would be pressure for a further watering down of protections in the future.
“In jurisdictions where voluntary assisted dying has been legalised there has been a growth in the number of people who use the system.Many people who argued in favour of the bill to me clearly had in mind that this would apply to them when at some future point they did not want to live or be a burden.”
Dr McGirr has concerns about the bill itself, and fears that it could lead to the development of specialist euthanasia doctors.
“While the bill requires that someone must consult two doctors, neither has to be a specialist in the patient’s illness and these doctors are not required to be independent of each other,” he said.
“They are not required to consult with the treating doctors. Indeed they are not required to consult with the family. How can they realistically assess possible coercion?
“Our primary goal should be to protect some of the most vulnerable in our community,” he said. “We have the means to do this with palliative care and that is where our focus should be.”