More people in Wagga support voluntary assisted dying than in most Sydney electorates, a survey of more than 155,000 NSW residents has found.
Data from the ABC's "Vote Compass" survey, conducted before the 2019 federal election, reveal that the majority of voters in every NSW electorate supported terminally ill patients being able to end their own lives with medical assistance.
Of the 1480 Wagga voters who took part in the survey, 81 per cent agreed that the terminally ill should have the choice, while the state average was 77 per cent.
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Local advocates, campaigning under the Dying with Dignity banner, say they are hopeful Member for Wagga Joe McGirr will "respect the wishes of his electorate" after meeting with him last week to discuss the issue.
Dr McGirr will have the choice later this year to vote on a voluntary assisted dying bill that could see NSW follow Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia in making the procedure legal for the terminally ill.
The Dying with Dignity advocacy organisation is using the ABC data ahead of the imminent Upper Hunter byelection in the hope of bolstering its position before the NSW bill is debated in Parliament.
Similar legislation is currently before the South Australian Parliament and is expected in Queensland during this term of its government, while the Northern Territory and ACT are not allowed to legislate on the issue because of federal regulations.
Dr McGirr, an experienced medical professional and a Catholic, has not changed his previously publicly stated opposition to euthanasia, but has committed to hearing from his constituents before he makes a decision.
Wagga historian Geoff Burch, one of the advocates who met with Dr McGirr last week, said he hoped the MP would change his position before September.
"I was very happy with the meeting but he certainly didn't say he'd changed his mind," Mr Burch said.
"He's happy to meet with us again and to continue to interact. He's certainly receptive and willing to listen [but] I don't think we've changed his position.
"I am still hopeful. He works closely with the independent [MPs]. He knows those people well and hopefully that will also influence him too. They're people he deals with regularly and they're very strong supporters."
Dr McGirr said he was in the process of listening to "a range of sources" on both sides of the debate.
He said he appreciated the local advocates - many of whom have watched loved ones suffer - coming to meet him to share their personal stories.
"I'm very carefully considering the issue and haven't seen the legislation yet ... I'm aware of that information from surveys. I think the issue is a complex one," he said.
He said some residents had contacted him with concerns about euthanasia and that he would also listen to their views.
"I think people are concerned about the message it sends. I think people are concerned about, you know, whether this is the first in a series of steps that lead to a slippery slope, these are arguments that people have raised," he said.
He said he had also been contacted by some local doctors who were concerned about the issue, but denied feeling any pressure from them to vote no on the bill.
Despite the conservative reputation of Wagga's medical profession, Dr McGirr said he didn't think there would be any issues for residents wishing to access assisted dying if it "hypothetically" were made legal.
"One thing that has emerged, I have to say, is that access to appropriate palliative care is absolutely critical," he said.
Wagga resident Clive Bond also met with Dr McGirr to voice his support for assisted dying and said their discussion went well.
"We gave our little talk. And he listened attentively to that. He seems to me to be quite a compassionate man," Mr Bond said.
However, he wasn't satisfied by Dr McGirr's argument about how much palliative care had improved. "It still comes to a matter of a person's right to choose, no matter how good palliative care might be," Mr Bond said.
"This is something that's been on my mind for many years. I spent 20 years [working] in public hospitals and a year in a war zone in a Third World hospital. So I've had a lot of opportunities to think about the way people approach dying."
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper and Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, Dr McGirr's fellow independents, are well-known assisted dying supporters.
Mr Greenwich is behind the NSW bill, which he plans to introduce to the NSW Parliament in September following the release of draft legislation in July.
"We are now finalising the bill. We've been able to closely review the [other states'] legislation to ensure that our bill has some of the strongest and most workable safeguards," he said.
"It would certainly be my hope that legislation can pass this year should there be support in the Parliament. That's why I'm giving my colleagues plenty of time."
Under his proposal, adults will be able to choose to end their lives if they have a terminal illness that will cause death within six months - or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions - and their suffering "cannot be tolerably relieved".
A person would have to have decision-making capacity and be acting voluntarily and without coercion, and have two independent assessments by separate doctors.
Mr Greenwich has also proposed a statutory board to review each individual case, with board members that would be appointed by the Attorney-General and the health minister.
Some Dying with Dignity advocates have suggested Dr McGirr should abstain from voting if he can't vote in support of the legislation, but Mr Greenwich said: "This is a matter of conscience and every member will need to form their own opinion".
Federal government restrictions on using telehealth mean it can't be used for euthanasia, which Mr Greenwich said had affected access for rural residents in other states.
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