A landmark bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales remains on track to pass through the state’s upper house, after a marathon debate which lasted until midnight on Wednesday night and will resume on Thursday.
The legislation is set to reach a final vote in the upper house this week, after members debated 92 late amendments for 12 hours on Wednesday. .
The approval of some amendments means the bill will now need to return to the lower house – six months after it passed there despite the opposition of both the premier, Dominic Perrottet, and Labor leader, Chris Minns, – before it can become law.
Although the bill enjoys a clear majority in the upper house – including support from all six Nationals MPs – opponents staged a prolonged filibuster, moving dozens of amendments in a bid to slow the bill’s passage.
Many of those had been heard during the debate in the lower house last year, including an amendment which would prevent health care workers from raising the option of voluntary assisted dying with patients. That amendment, as with dozens of others, was defeated.
Two technical amendments put forward by the education minister, Sarah Mitchell, were approved, as well as one moved by the Nationals and one from Labor MP Greg Donnelly, who proposed more than 30 amendments.
The changes mean the bill will have to return to the parliament’s lower house before it becomes law.
Mitchell said she intended to vote in favour of the bill.
“It’s important that members have the chance to raise any amendments that they may have,” Mitchell said.
“But I would certainly like to see that bill completed this week.”
The bill, introduced by the independent MP Alex Greenwich with 28 co-sponsors, limits access to voluntary assisted dying to people with terminal illnesses who will die within six months, or 12 months in the case of a person with a neurodegenerative condition experiencing unbearable suffering.
The person must be found to have capacity to make the decision to go ahead voluntarily without duress, and the application would be assessed by two medical practitioners.
Donnelly also proposed an amendment that would allow religious residential aged care facilities to ban residents from accessing voluntary assisted dying.
He suggested it would allow terminally ill patients to move to facilities that did not oppose voluntary assisted dying, but the amendments were defeated.
The minister for regional health, Bronnie Taylor, spoke to oppose that amendment, saying the bill went far enough to appease the rights of aged care institutions.
“People in aged care, in any form of residential care and in hospitals, must retain the right to make choices about their life, their life and their options,” Taylor said.
“Why would we support a law aimed at substituting their decisions over their life with those of distanced boards and directors?”
Taylor, who previously worked as a clinical nurse specialising in palliative care, said she spoke with experience.
“I absolutely respect a person’s choice. This is about choice.”
The numbers in the lower house mean the bill will almost certainly pass into law following the upper house debate. It would make NSW the final state in the commonwealth to pass voluntary assisted dying legislation. Victoria passed what the premier, Daniel Andrews, described as the most conservative euthanasia regime in the world when it passed in 2017.
Kiki Paul, the chief executive of Go Gentle Australia, an advocacy group supporting the laws, said the NSW bill’s progress had been “exceedingly slow”.
“But we have been buoyed by the resounding defeat of the first two sets of opponents’ amendments – which augurs well for the final vote,” she said.
Opponents of the bill characterised the changes as an attempt to provide additional safeguards.
“I am an opponent of the bill, but I believe that we need to deal with the reality that is before us, which is that the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will pass this parliament,” the Liberal Party MP Scott Farlow said.
“That is not something that I will celebrate but it is reality. In passing the bill, I think that we need to have as many protections in place as possible.”
– Australian Associated Press contributed to this report