RAFFWU President, Jessica Barnes

As many members may be aware, NSW Parliament is currently reviewing the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) bill, introduced by Independent MP Alex Greenwich. If it passes the lower house, a conscience vote will then be allowed on the bill next year.

This may seem an odd thing to discuss in a Retail and Fast Food Workers Union magazine. My response to that is; everyone will die. Many members will, unfortunately, at some stage have a family member or friend who suffers from a terminal illness. This is an issue that will most likely effect the majority of RAFFWU members, and most members of the community at large.

Whilst I understand, and respect, that there are varying opinions on this topic, I think it’s important to reiterate that this is a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill. Emphasis on Voluntary. No one will be forced to access these laws. People who disagree, for whatever reason, may choose not to use these provisions. That is their right. However, competent adults who are suffering immense pain with no hope of recovery will be given the choice; to say when they feel enough is enough.

NSW is currently the only state in Australia that does not have VAD legislation in place. This has put many people, and their families, who are suffering terminal and incredibly painful illnesses into horrendous situations. Data from The National Coronial Information System shows that one in five suicides in NSW in 2019 by people over forty were by someone with a debilitating or terminal illness.

The bill has the support of the HSU (Health Services Union), NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association and Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), amongst others.

VAD has great support in the general community, a Roy Morgan poll found eighty-seven per cent support. A recent survey of HSU members found eighty-nine per cent supported this bill.

According to the bill, access to voluntary assisted dying would be reserved for people with terminal illness who will die within six months. If they have neuro-degenerative conditions and are experiencing immense suffering, that will be extended to twelve months. Two doctors would need to sign off on any requests. Safeguards would also be put in place to eliminate coercion or pressure regarding the final decision.

I have, sadly, had experience with family members suffering from terminal illnesses. My Uncle passed away from skin cancer at the age of forty-four. Towards the end of his illness, he asked family members if they could give him something to make him go to sleep to end his pain.

Last year my Grandmother passed away at home with our family. She was suffering from cancer that had spread throughout her body. The pain she experienced became more and more pronounced. Morphine eventually did not help. She slowly lost the ability to talk, move, and finally to swallow. She died after experiencing pulmonary edema and aspirating water into her lungs whilst trying to drink. We called an ambulance as this was happening. When paramedics arrived, they told us there was nothing they could do to help.

These experiences have greatly affected myself and my family. They will never leave us.

I know that if my Uncle and Grandmother could have opted out of such traumatic deaths, they would have.

I think it’s so important that others in similar positions not be forced to suffer, but be given a choice.

I would like to show solidarity with our health worker comrades, who have already expressed their support for this bill, with a similar statement of support from RAFFWU. However, I’m keen to hear members thoughts on this issue in the first instance.

I understand that this is a difficult topic, and there will be differing opinions. I would be grateful if members would take the time to contact me with their views on this significant issue. No matter their stance, I will do my utmost to listen and be respectful. I’d ask members to please do the same.

There are links to further reading about the VAD bill below.

If members would like to provide feedback, please do so by 18th February 2022, before the conscience vote.

Members can email Jessica at president@raffwu.org.au

Please find below some links regarding the VAD bill:

https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/bills/Pages/bill-details.aspx?pk=3891

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-13/nsw-euthanasia-bill-debate-continues/100601486

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-18/voluntary-euthanasia-bill-headed-for-nsw-parliament-in-october/100471472

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/faith-hope-and-barbarity-ignoring-the-truth-on-assisted-dying-20211114-p598re.html

The organisations Go Gentle Australia and Dying With Dignity NSW, both have numerous reports and quite comprehensive resources available on the issue:

https://www.gogentleaustralia.org.au/queensland_nurses_back_voluntary_assisted_dying

https://dwdnsw.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Guide-to-the-Debate-on-VAD-July-2021-Small-file-2.pdf