ANMF (Vic Branch) sends its condolences to family, friends and colleagues of Nia Sims, who passed away in mid-June.
A former registered nurse, Nia became a tireless campaigner for voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws after witnessing the distressingly drawn-out death from brain cancer of her father, Greg. Despite her nursing background, Nia was helpless to ease her father’s suffering in his final days.
In 2017, following her father’s traumatic death, Nia joined forces with Go Gentle Australia and award-winning filmmaker Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Nitram) to create the short film Stop the Horror. An accurate re-creation of Greg’s last days, this six-minute film was shockingly difficult to watch – by design. It even had a ‘stop the horror’ button that viewers could click to end the film. Most viewers did so less than halfway through.
Clicking that button took viewers to the Go Gentle Australia website and its resources and information about changing the law in Victoria. By the end of that year, the state became the first in Australia to legislate voluntary assisted dying (the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017). Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland followed in 2019 and 2021, with NSW passing a VAD bill in May this year.
(The Northern Territory famously legalised VAD in 1995, only to be overruled by the newly elected Howard Federal Government in 1997. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 also prevents the ACT from legislating voluntary assisted dying).
ANMF (Vic Branch) has had a policy supporting voluntary assisted dying since 1995.
Living with chronic illness, dying with dignity
Nia herself was chronically ill, living with the debilitating autoimmune disease scleroderma. In 2019, she wrote a piece for ABC News that offered some insight into her life with this disease:
‘Perhaps you can imagine what that might feel like — hard skin that won’t stretch and limits my range of movement, severely deformed hands and toes, hard but brittle lungs which struggle to expand and exchange gases through thickened tissues.
‘Just going to the toilet or eating causes me shortness of breath. I have a gut which doesn’t absorb nutrients well and causes weight loss and malnutrition.
‘I spend about 16-18 hours each day in bed and perhaps three hours on my feet, short of breath, unable to walk far and with very limited hand movement.
‘My lungs are failing and could collapse at any time, as they have done before … ultimately, I am likely to die of slow lung failure (unable to breathe), starvation (unable to receive sustaining nutrition) or slow heart failure.’
Former Health Minister Jill Hennessy recently remembered Nia, and wrote:
‘Our much loved, determined, compassionate talented friend has died. Like so many others, I will miss her enormously. Nia was an inspiring and resilient talisman for our voluntary assisted dying reforms. She sat through every minute of this gruelling debate. She kept us focused on the real world needs of those with terminal illnesses.’
Nia was very distressed at the thought of having to suffer as her father did if VAD laws didn’t exist when her lungs could no longer be saved by medicine and surgery. Thankfully – in part due to her own activism – she was able to go out on her own terms. Vale.