October 18, 2017  |  Second Reading

VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING BILL 2017

Mr CARROLL (Minister for Industry and Employment) (21:13:00) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 tonight. Pain can be managed in almost any instance; suffering cannot. This debate has remained respectful, and that reinforces my belief in the empathy we have for others. I believe that empathy can be extended to those that suffer needlessly in the lead‑up to their death. I place on record that I will be supporting the legislation brought forward on voluntary assisted dying by the Minister for Health, and I commend both her and the Premier for their leadership in this area.

The Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee inquiry into end‑of‑life choices heard from more than 1000 Victorians, both in person and through a submission process, while the expert ministerial advisory panel heard from more than 300 stakeholders throughout their consultations. The legislation before Parliament delivers on the safe and compassionate framework designed by the ministerial advisory panel, chaired by former Australian Medical Association president and neurosurgeon Brian Owler. It delivers on all 68 safeguards recommended by the ministerial advisory panel to protect individuals and the community. The safeguards make Victoria’s model the safest and most conservative in the world.

The safeguards are clear: adult, Victorian, decision‑making capacity, end of life, terminal stage, terminal condition and unbearable physical condition. The request must come from the patient, not ahead of time, and be enduring and free of coercion. It must be repeated three times, once in writing, with two doctors and two independent witnesses. If the patient withdraws, the whole process starts again from step one. This model is safe, it is complete and it is ready to become law.

What we know is that people in suburbs and towns right throughout Victoria are already taking their own lives due to pain and suffering. This is a topic that has often been regarded as taboo. Many people hope they will never have to talk about it, which can result in a person’s end‑of‑life wishes not being heard. Therefore, I am proud to be a part of a government that has taken a step that no‑one else would to provide person‑centred care when it comes to end‑of‑life choices.

The Age editorial of yesterday said:

Since 1992, only 10 people who have attempted to help the terminally ill die have been charged or convicted, and none of them have been jailed. The courts are already interpreting the act as one of mercy not murder.

As I said earlier, the legislation proposed is more conservative and comprehensive than any that exists in the few countries that have legalised assisted dying. It has many safeguards against coercion, undue haste and the exploitation of the mentally ill or vulnerable. It is only for the terminally ill and only then with medical authorisation. According to research by the Grattan Institute, 70 per cent of people want to die at home, yet only about 14 per cent do.

The cold, hard reality is that in our suburbs, towns and communities 50 people every year experiencing an irreversible deterioration in physical health are resorting to a lonely act of desperation in taking their own lives. Let us be very clear: assisted dying is already happening. As Professor Hal Swerissen says, we currently allow it, but we have it hidden. No‑one should have to suffer a bad death.

One case that really struck a chord with me was a case outside Victoria, but it could have happened anywhere. It was highlighted on the ABC’s 7.30 a little while ago. It was the case of the former executive director of Cancer Council Western Australia, 75‑year‑old Clive Deverall, who took his own life on 11 March after suffering for two decades from a rare form of non‑Hodgkin lymphoma. At his funeral his wife, Noreen Fynn, told family and friends that he left a note that said, ‘Suicide is legal, euthanasia is not’. Mr Deverall took his own life on the day of the WA election, and Ms Fynn believes this was no accident. In fact in an ABC News article she said:

It was a message. If the legislation [to allow voluntary euthanasia] had been in place, I don’t think he would have taken his life.

I truly think that if he had had options, he would not have gone on Saturday.

By way of background, Mr Deverall served as the head of Cancer Council Western Australia for more than 20 years and, as president of Palliative Care WA, worked tirelessly to set up palliative care services. By all reports Mr Deverall, as a pioneer of cancer action, had a legendary capacity for compassion for people, from a public health and prevention model to support for patients moving into palliative care. I pose this question: when the former president of Palliative Care WA takes his life in a public place in order to end his irreversible suffering and to protect his family from the same, what could be any more significant?

I want to draw on some of what I have heard from my constituents in my electorate of Niddrie. To be very frank, support in my electorate was quieter than those opposing, but not less. All contributions from both sides, whether via email or letter, were moving and emotive. I want to put on record some of the constituent emails and letters I received, including the words of Mrs Mikki Bell of West Essendon:

As an elderly person and a retired nurse, I can’t think of anything more cruel than not having peace of mind re: dying comfortably and having the right to choose the same.

Mr and Mrs Neil and May Andrew of Avondale Heights said:

We are at the stage of life where this may affect us. We want the choice of voluntary assisted dying.

Mr Robert Peters of Essendon said:

I have personally watched close friends and family die in a slow and undignified manner. I also have a friend who took his own life in a very messy manner after being advised of his imminent death.

Mrs Leonie Slavin of Niddrie said:

I support the implementation of the laws. I don’t have a personal story to share related to the laws. I just believe it is the right thing to do, to allow those suffering pain to be released from it.

Mr David Dippie of Essendon said:

I would like to compliment you and your government for having the courage to tackle the —

euthanasia —

issue … My mother died of motor neurone disease. A sound mind trapped in a body until she starved to death. A person who insisted that her grandchildren should not visit and be scarred by something that no child should be exposed to, a person who was at peace and ready to die and who wanted to end the pain that her slow death was inflicting on the people she loved.

I also received correspondence from people who do not support the legislation, including from 18‑year‑old Nicholas Calandra from Avondale Heights and his 22‑year‑old sister, Kristen. They wrote to me on 4 July, and I subsequently met them at my electorate office on 1 August. Both are young people and both are very committed to their views, and I thank them for their contributions and for meeting with me.

There was also Dr Mark Hobart of Aberfeldie, and he said the proposed euthanasia laws will put nursing home residents and other vulnerable patients at an even greater risk. I also want to put on record my thanks to Dr Michael and Margaret Christie of Essendon, who I met and who are strong supporters of palliative care, as well as to Therese Hughes of Essendon, another strong supporter of palliative care.

I also want to thank my colleagues and put on record my thanks and appreciation to the Deputy Premier for the support he has given in making sure members on both sides do hear both sides of the argument. I did attend a meeting he organised with the Australian Medical Association and Palliative Care Victoria for their briefing, but I have come to a different conclusion on why I support this legislation.

In the last few moments I do want to pay tribute to three colleagues in this place for their brave openness when sharing their personal stories of loved ones. I think the Premier’s father, Bob, would be very proud of him today, as would the Minister for Health’s mother, Joan, and the Minister for Agriculture’s daughter, Sinead. I also want to put on record my appreciation for some of the contributions I have heard today and yesterday. The members for Gippsland South, Mornington and, on our own side, Narre Warren South all made eloquent and very important contributions.

Palliative care cannot take care of everything. I have read the evidence, and I do firmly believe that. I do embrace what palliative care stands for, but I have also come to learn that even with the best clinician guidelines at the very end stage there are patients for whom the symptoms cannot be controlled. Patients in a distressed state in unbearable pain and suffering whose symptoms cannot be controlled should be afforded voluntary euthanasia. This landmark legislation will make right a cruel law which at the moment is prejudicial to the interests and wishes of patients. I commend the bill to the house.