Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill - Second Reading

17 October 2017

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (16:05:25) — I rise to contribute to the debate today. In starting my contribution I note that this is an issue that has brought some of the most feedback to all our electorate offices, including my electorate office. I have had people from both sides of the debate come and see me, and obviously in today’s society there has been a plethora of emails around these issues. I say to all the people from both sides of the debate who have spoken to me personally that I appreciate them putting their views to me, and I appreciate the spirit in which they put those views. Everyone was respectful in how they put their particular point of view. I would not necessarily say that that level of respect was carried through into the emails that were sent at various times.

Some of the people who came to see me have terminal illnesses and they know that their lives will end in the foreseeable future. To a person, the people who came to see me in those circumstances said, ‘We may not use this option, but we would like this option to be available to us in the future’, and I do appreciate that point of view that was put to me. Obviously then there are those on the other side of the debate who are very, very opposed to this, and they put their points of view forward. I personally oppose this legislation and will be voting against it.

In talking about the bill today I note the reasoned amendment that has been moved by the member for Monbulk. My comment on the reasoned amendment is that if the Deputy Premier of this state believes that there are so many inequities or faults in this piece of legislation, why do we have it before the house? We have the Deputy Premier, who sits at the cabinet table and who will have made a significant contribution to the debate at the cabinet table, who obviously does not agree, effectively, with any of the legislation. He does not agree that there is best practice palliative care in this state, does not believe that there are the right medications to do this and does not believe that the risks have been mitigated by all the checks and balances that have supposedly been put in the legislation. I find it intriguing that we have the Deputy Premier moving a reasoned amendment with all the particular issues it lists before us in this place. I personally agree with the majority of them, but I find it intriguing that we have the Deputy Premier running this debate in this place.

We have all had a lot of correspondence, particularly from the Australian Medical Association (AMA). From my understanding there is division amongst doctors in the AMA, but the AMA’s position in 2016 was around the fact that they believed that doctors have an ethical duty of care to dying patients and that death should be allowed to occur in comfort and with dignity. Doctors should understand that they have a responsibility to initiate and provide good quality end-of-life care which strives to ensure that a dying patient is free from pain and suffering and endeavours to uphold the patient’s values, preferences and goals of care.

For most patients, end-of-life pain and suffering should be alleviated through the provision of good quality end-of-life care, including palliative care, that focuses on symptoms, relief and prevention of suffering, and the improvement of quality of life. There are some instances where it is difficult to achieve satisfactory relief, but all dying patients have the right to receive relief from pain and suffering even where this may shorten their lives. The AMA also believes that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life. This does not include the discontinuation of treatment where there is no medical benefit to the dying patient. As I understand it from what I have read and the information that has been sent to me, the majority of doctors are probably opposing this process for ending someone’s life.

My primary reason for voting against this legislation is that I think it changes centuries of principle when it comes to the medical profession — to aid and enhance life and to assist people through that and not to help end their lives. There has been a lot written about this issue, and I think Paul Kelly’s article in the Weekend Australian earlier in October was a very well thought through article. He calls us the ‘socially experimental state of Victoria’ and says that after a flawed process it:

… proposes its gravest experiment — to allow doctors to terminate the lives of patients, thereby creating in law two classes of human beings, those whose lives should be preserved and those ‘better off dead’.

The line between these two categories, contrary to claims of Victoria’s euthanasia advocates, is highly arbitrary. Common sense, political reality and international experience testifies to the truth — once killing and assisted suicide is authorised according to certain rules the momentum to expand those rules becomes relentless, leading to increased numbers being terminated.

I think that summarises very, very well my position on this legislation.

Included in some of the correspondence I received on the legislation was one from Eastern Palliative Care in Mitcham. They provide palliative care services in the eastern region of Melbourne. One of the concerns they raise is that their staff could end up:

… inadvertently being drawn into this act when our staff are called to clients who may have taken the lethal dose of medication either during the day or after hours as we have a 24-hour call service …

But if things do not work out well, their nurses will be called out to those people where the process has not necessarily gone the way that people had envisaged it would go.

One of the concerns I have is that, as I understand it and as has already been articulated very well in this debate, after a person has been to see two doctors a period of time apart, they have proven they are of sound mind to make these particular decisions, they are going to be given a particular medication — a poison — that is yet to be determined. The drugs that are used overseas for this purpose, as I understand it, are not available in Australia; they are not on the therapeutic goods schedule. So people will be given a drug, yet to be determined, to take home, supposedly in a locked box, to put in a cupboard to use at some time in the future.

I am a shooter; I have guns. They have to be kept in a locked safe and only I know where the key is, otherwise I am actually in breach of my shooter’s licence. So we are saying to a person with a gun that it has to be locked up and no-one can access that particular gun, but we are going to make available a medication or a pharmaceutical product, yet to be determined, that can effectively sit in a cupboard in a house and anyone can have access to it. I find that a rather concerning process into the future.

One of the deficiencies of this legislation is that at this stage, as I understand it, the medication that will be available is yet to be determined. One of the articles I read said that a pharmacist will mix up a concoction of different drugs that people will be able to take to end their life. They will most likely have to take another medication first to make sure they do not vomit up this medication. I do not think that is the process that most people have in mind when they are thinking about how you can have a peaceful end to your life.

The Premier is quoted in the Age of 8 October as saying that it was a matter for medical professionals and pharmacists to determine what drugs should be used if the laws pass in Victoria. The Premier notes that it is not something he believes the state should be determining. If we are changing the history of the medical profession over centuries and saying that we are going to bring in killing in this state by legalising suicide, I think we need to know what medications are going to be used and how they are going to be administered. We need to know how children in a household, or the close relative of someone who has used them who decides they want to end their life as well and uses the rest of the medication, are going to be protected. There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to how the legislation will work and what medications will be used.

One of the things that I do not think we do well enough in this state — both sides of politics could have done it better in the past and there are commitments to do it better in the future — is palliative care services. Can I ask for an extension of time, Acting Speaker?

Leave granted.

Mr WALSH — In my home town of Swan Hill there has been a very strong fundraising push by the community. They have raised a significant amount of money to get some palliative care beds into the hospital to increase the resources of the palliative care services there; they raised several hundred thousand dollars to do that. I acknowledge the work of Michael Crow as the chair of that group and in particular Gaynor Hayward, one of the women in that group whose husband died of cancer. She saw the need for that service in Swan Hill. They raised a substantial amount of money to make sure there are palliative care beds there. I also thank the Minister for Health, who made a grant available to ensure that the service has the facilities needed in Swan Hill.

Those people in the community saw a need for better palliative care services and in particular better palliative care services in the home. There is research showing that a lot of people want to spend the last days of their life in the peace of their own home with their own family and if there are good 24/7 palliative care services available, they can do that. I would have much preferred that we were having a debate in this house about how we get more resources allocated to palliative care, more palliative care nurses trained and have those services available for people who are nearing the end of their life.

I just cannot comprehend what we have come to as a society when we are going to legalise medically assisted suicide in this state. I just shake my head and wonder how we can actually be in this particular place. In arriving at that position in my own thinking, it is not from a lack of sympathy, care or thought for people who are dying or have a terminal illness. I do not think caring and sympathy for those people is something that is the purview of only those who are supporting this particular legislation. I do not believe that we are less caring in any way by opposing this piece of legislation. I know that some people have painted it that way, and I think that is a very disappointing part of this debate.

We have all had loved ones who have passed away. My father died of cancer 13 years ago and the last few days of his life were very difficult, but I know Dad would not have been part of this process — he had strong views about this issue. My mother is still alive and she again would not be part of this process. The fact that I oppose this legislation does not mean that I do not care, as some would like to paint those who are opposing it.

In finishing, my summary would be that we need to be putting a lot more resources into palliative care and making sure the resources are there for those people whose life is coming to an end. We will all die; we are all going to die at some stage. From my personal point of view, I have great faith in the Lord and the fact that we will have a good palliative care system in Victoria that one side of politics or the other will put in place before that time comes in my life. Between my faith in religion, my faith in the Lord and my faith in our medical system I am extremely confident that when my life ends, it will end in the best possible way.

We all fear death in some ways, but death is inevitable for all of us and we need to make sure we work through that in the best possible way we can, but I will not be supporting this legislation. As I said, I find it very sad that as a society we have come to a point in debating this issue where we are talking about legalising medically assisted suicide in this state, particularly with this piece of legislation where we do not know what medication is supposedly going to be used. I do not believe there are sufficient safeguards in place as well.


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