Second reading: Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (23:25:36) — Colleagues, we are challenged as MPs on many occasions to make difficult decisions and create laws that affect the lives of all Victorians. Some of the debates we have in this chamber are easier than others, but I have to say that this debate on the end of life and euthanasia is the most difficult debate that I will have in this Parliament. It certainly has been one of the most important debates this Parliament has had for many years gone and will have for many years to come.

I personally would like to thank all the speakers who have made contributions, because I think this issue is important. You can see that throughout the debate there has been a lot of reflection, a lot of thought and a lot of personal circumstances referred to in debate. I think that is really important. That is why we are elected here — to ultimately make these important decisions. I would also like to thank my constituents and many others that have contacted my office, met with me and provided me with countless information both for and against the bill.

It is interesting that many of my colleagues who have spoken to me about this bill have assumed that because I am a proud Jew with a strong belief I would automatically vote against the bill, and certainly in the first instance there are a lot of biblical, if you like, laws that state that ending someone’s life is something that should not have human intervention. The Bible considers human life as sacred. With regard to end-of-life decisions, our religious law clearly and categorically prohibits the performance of any act that shortens a patient’s life. That is the view of many of our rabbinical leaders and certainly all the Orthodox rabbinical leaders. According to a progressive rabbi, Kim Ettlinger, who spoke about this subject at the Jewish New Year services just gone by:

Judaism, and hence progressive Judaism, sees life as a gift from God and therefore needs to be treated with the highest level of respect.

She goes on to say:

We may not do anything to unnecessarily prolong a life, nor may we do anything to accelerate ending a life unnecessarily. We may take action to alleviate pain and suffering and at the same time to enhance a person’s quality of life in illness. And, when medical therapies are deemed ineffective, we may withdraw them — under medical advice only.

It is our obligation to do what we can to heal someone who is sick and take care of them, but this does not include assisting a patient to end his or her life. Assisted suicide, therefore, is incompatible to Jewish teaching. And, it has the potential for interpretation and abuse.

With that in mind I can understand straight up why I was getting comments that I would automatically be opposing this bill, and certainly on personal reflection that is an important element. But although I have very strong sympathy for those people who are supporting this bill — and many have given examples of people who have taken their life because they felt their life was not worth living and had not been able to end their life deliberately through these sorts of measures — I do have to say that I am opposing the bill not just for religious reasons. There are a number of other reasons why I have real concerns about the bill we have in front of us.

Yesterday I spoke to the volunteers who are here as part of the Courage to Care exhibition, and if there is ever an example of the importance of life, it is that exhibition that we have in Queen’s Hall, because that exhibition is for us all to recognise what an evil Nazi regime did deliberately to go about ending people’s lives. Six million Jews were killed deliberately by an evil government, and in amongst that there were individuals who stood up to save lives. In amongst that there were righteous individuals, non-Jews, who just knew how important life was and saved people, took people in and hid people. Even tonight we had the ambassador in the Parliament, who actually honoured the children of those righteous people who took in, ultimately, survivors. So we all know the importance of life, and for me that is just such an important thing: to value life and to do whatever we can to save life. I think that is a really important thing going forward.

There are lots of arguments that we can put for and against all of this sort of stuff. There are lots of questions that we can have, but ultimately we do not have a second chance. We have heard today about the importance of one life, of saving one life, and what that would do. For me, I do not support things like capital punishment because of that one innocent person, as we have had other members mention — that one innocent person and sparing that one innocent life. These are important issues that certainly I have been thinking about for some time, and I know many others have been thinking about it as well.

We are very much split in terms of our medical fraternity and what they feel about this. We do not have medical experts who have been across this unanimously coming together and saying, ‘This is the best thing for patients. This is what we should be doing’. I think if we had that, for me this would be a hell of a lot easier. This would be much easier, because we could rely on those experts to say, ‘Right — this is what we can do. This is ultimately going to be the best for the patients’. But when we have the Australian Medical Association and doctors coming to us — hundreds of doctors writing to us — and saying there are issues with this, doctors are here to save lives not to end lives and we do not want to be a part of this, it raises a whole lot of issues for me. The fact that a doctor could be someone’s GP all of their life and that GP at the end of their life could ultimately have no say and no involvement and in some cases not even be notified about this is concerning. The whole issue of ultimately having those doctors who save lives being responsible for ending lives is something that really flips the debate.

We have heard people talk about elder abuse, and yes, some of this is intentional. We have heard examples about when it comes to financial situations, but ultimately it may not even be about that. I was reminded by a constituent who said she was in a situation where she was carting a parent around to go to medical appointments, from one medical appointment to another, and in a flippant remark said, ‘I am spending all my life carting you from one appointment to the next’ — not intentionally and not in a harmful manner — but does that one flippant comment resonate with her mother or her father to the point where they say, ‘I am a burden on you, and maybe it is better that I take the next step’, particularly if that person has been diagnosed? I will come to my personal circumstances with my mum shortly.

We have heard a lot about palliative care, and I just wanted to briefly put on record my support for palliative care and the great work that they do. It is something for which we in Victoria are well recognised as leading the way, but we could do so much more. We could do so much more, and we should do so much more. We should invest as much as we possibly can in medical research, medicine, health and palliative care. We should do as much as we can in this area.

I wanted to acknowledge the great work of Calvary Health Care Bethlehem in my electorate in Caulfield, who are recognised as a leader and specialist in palliative care services, and they support over 4000 patients and their families each year. I wanted to thank CEO Jane Fischer for the briefing that she gave me. Calvary is concerned about the lack of information about the proposed clinical regimen that will apply, also knowing the complications with regard to safety and effectiveness. Also the overseas experience shows us that sometimes things do not go smoothly in these sorts of voluntary assisted dying processes.

I ask for leave for additional time.

Leave granted.

Mr SOUTHWICK — Without a clear understanding of what drugs will be used or who will administer them and how the complications including vomiting, fitting and failure to die will be managed until the proposed protocols are approved, these are all issues that Calvary and others have with the bill. Calvary asked that we do not consider the bill until the full details are known and the community is able to make an informed choice, fully understanding the process and risks. I will come to the member for Monbulk’s amendment shortly because that is at the heart of what Calvary and others in the palliative care area are talking about.

I do want to talk a little bit about my personal situation. Some say we should not be reflecting personally; some say we should. You know what? We are individuals. We have our own stories, and we have that as part of the base that puts us here to be able to make the decisions that we are making.

On 9 May 2010, which was Mother’s Day, my mother passed away. She did not get to see me take a seat in this house, but I know that she would be very proud. She was very much my biggest fan and would follow everything that I did and be my biggest supporter. Prior to this my family and I agreed on a do-not-resuscitate order for her because she had a number of issues. We met with doctors, and they said, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s better that we don’t resuscitate her if that happens’. We went through the process. We spoke to her, she said that that is what she wanted and we ultimately made that decision.

I do want to point something out. Twenty years earlier mum had bowel cancer and ended up in a situation of being in an induced coma. The doctors came to us and said she had a matter of days — two or three days. ‘She’s not going to live. She’s not going to pull through this. Go in and say your goodbyes’. I remember this because I was doing my school leaving, year 12. I went in and we said our goodbyes, and everything was just completely ripped from us. Guess what? Those three days ended up 20 years. She lived with bowel cancer. She lived happy, she lived a great life and she pulled through.

Fast-track to May in 2010. Mum was put in a situation where when she left intensive care she was stabilised. She went up into the ward in the hospital and into an area, but she was not transferred properly. Unfortunately she was not put under proper observation and did not have oxygen. When we got to the room, we had doctors standing around looking at her, and she did not get resuscitated because that is what we said we did not want. And we question that decision each day. That is the complexity of life. What do we do to ensure that somebody has the best possible outcome?

My father passed away eight months ago. Dad was in a situation where he had complexities and things spiralled down pretty quickly. But the great thing about dad is he was in St Vincent’s Hospital and he had the best palliative care process that I would want for absolutely anyone. We had a time with him, and I spent the last two days holding his hand until his last breath. For me, as traumatic as it was to lose him, I had a chance to say goodbye. I just think about what we are debating here today and I think about the issues, about giving loved ones tablets to take home to take whenever they feel like they have had a bad day and all those sorts of things, and I just wonder whether we are doing the right thing. This is so important. This is such an important issue. Are we doing the right thing?

The amendments that the member for Monbulk has circulated are important. They are certainly ones that I will be voting in support of. I suggest that we all look at doing that going forward, because when it comes to ending someone’s life we do not get a second chance, and we must do everything we can to ensure that we make their life as fruitful as we possibly can and work towards that life. That is why I will be supporting the member for Monbulk’s amendments here today.