A bereaved husband has shared the painful experience of losing his wife to cancer after religious leaders called on MPs to vote down a voluntary assisted dying bill set to go before the NSW lower house this year.
A cohort of leaders of faith penned an open letter at the weekend, calling on MPs to vote down a bill that has proposed legal voluntary assisted dying in NSW for those who are given less than six months to live, with allowances for conscious objection.
They argue the bill is morally wrong and will detract from the importance of palliative care for the terminally ill.
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Long-time assisted dying advocate Geoff Burch lost his wife Sue to a years-long battle with cancer on May 23. He pushed back against the letter, saying for many like his wife, palliative care is not enough.
"I've seen my wife die from cancer and the palliative care at Calvary [Hospital] was exemplary, but it got to a point where the amount of drugs turned my wife into a vegetable," he said. "I watched her die of starvation and dehydration over a couple of weeks.
"It's not right that kids or the husband have to go watch their loved one perish like that, it's just absurd. At a certain point, palliative care isn't good enough any more."
Bishop of the Wagga Diocese Mark Edwards, author of this week's letter, said he was concerned about the ramifications of allowing the bill to go through on both a religious and ethical level and a personal one - his great aunt, based in the Netherlands, chose assisted dying a few years ago.
"My great aunt took up the option of euthanasia and it really was quite divisive in our family, quite painful," Bishop Edwards said, adding he felt that she may felt a sense of "duty".
"It can be something which is regarded as the noble thing to do, like you're no longer a burden... that increases my anxiety."
Muslim Association of the Riverina's Dr Waseem Afzal said he signed the letter to reaffirm the importance of life at every stage. "As faith-based communities this is our belief that life is always worth living and it's our responsibility to take care of people not making them feel that they are a burden on society," he said.
Dying with Dignity's Shayne Higson said MPs should vote according to the wishes of their constituents, the majority of whom are in favour.
"Polling over many years has shown overwhelming support for voluntary assisted dying in the electorates of Cootamundra and Wagga Wagga with data from the 2019 Vote Compass survey showing levels of support at 78% and 81% respectively," she said. "This support includes majority support from Catholics, Anglicans and other Christians."
Mr Burch said it was "audacious and arrogant" of religious leaders to ask representatives to vote against their own voter's beliefs, saying it went against the basic principles of democracy.
Wagga Anglican Archdeacon Dr Grant Bell who signed the letter said while he is morally and ethically opposed to the bill, he agreed a decision should be based on the majority, suggesting a referendum.
Nationals MP Wes Fang said he would support the bill and that religious leaders have no role to play in the debate, while member for Wagga Joe McGirr said he is considering all the information and has previously stated his opposition to assisted dying.
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