SA upper house to vote on assisted dying

SA Labor's Kyam Maher is optimistic about the upper house vote on voluntary assisted dying laws.
SA Labor's Kyam Maher is optimistic about the upper house vote on voluntary assisted dying laws.

South Australia's Legislative Council will debate late into the evening a bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia, with the legislation anticipated to progress to the lower house.

The new bill, which will be put to a conscience vote, includes 68 safeguards and a provision that people wishing to end their lives must be resident in SA for at least 12 months.

It's the 17th attempt in 25 years to introduce voluntary euthanasia laws in South Australia.

The bill requires patients show they have decision-making capacity and are capable of informed consent, and that they undergo an assessment by two independent medical practitioners.

They must have their request verified by two independent witnesses and must be experiencing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved.

A terminal diagnosis and a life expectancy of less than six months, or 12 months for a person with a neurodegenerative disease, must also be confirmed.

The SA bill is based on Victoria's legislation and system for voluntary assisted dying.

Shadow attorney-general and co-sponsor of the bill Kyam Maher, who took up the voluntary assisted dying cause in 2020 after watching his mother's suffering, says he's optimistic about Wednesday's vote in the upper house.

"The vote will be close but I'm cautiously optimistic given that we are now following in the footsteps of what's becoming the Australian model of voluntary assisted dying," the Labor frontbencher told ABC radio.

But ALP colleague Clare Scriven said it was too early to judge the impact of the Victoria laws, which came into effect in mid-2019.

"The law may not change but practice does, with safeguards ignored, which is the main drawback of any voluntary assisted dying law," she said during the debate.

"In the first years of new legislation there tends to be strict adherence, but culture changes over time and therefore practice changes over time. Which is why the less than two years of experience in Victoria is insufficient to form an informed view about whether that legislation is working in the way it was intended."

She also highlighted concerns the bill requires information to be provided to patients about voluntary assisted dying but not about the right to refuse care.

Protesters earlier expressed impatience with South Australia's decades-long debate about the issue.

Several dozen protesters rallied on the steps of the parliament on Wednesday, commemorating those who have died since the first bill was introduced 1995.

Voluntary Assisted Dying SA spokesperson Lainie Anderson told the crowd: "The fact this is the 17th bill in 20 years - it's time, isn't it?"

Protester Shelly Nieuwenhuizen wants to ensure others don't have to endure what her parents experienced at the end of their lives.

The 60-year-old Largs Bay resident lost her mother after a prolonged battle with dementia, and her father after he opted to allow an infection "run rampant" and take his life.

Ms Nieuwenhuizen was wearing a crucifix necklace bestowed to her by her mother, but is no longer religious after watching the suffering endured by her parents.

Her mother always supported the right to die despite her religious convictions.

"My mother used to have two false teeth that we never saw her take out growing up because she had too much self-pride," she told AAP.

"That dignity was taken away from her in her last days. Shouldn't people who believe in god have compassion?"

A new survey of 511 people by The Australia Institute found four in five South Australians support assisted dying laws similar to what Victoria passed.

Western Australia recently passed similar laws that come into force later this year, while legislation has also passed in the Tasmanian parliament.

Australian Associated Press