Consideration in detail: Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (21:24:52) — I rise to support the member for Warrandyte’s amendment to this bill, and at the outset I will accept that this is a debate that involves decisions of conscience. Some very important arguments have been made tonight on a number of different issues with these amendments. This amendment deals particularly with recording very important information to improve the quality of health care. The minister has said that this information is already there and will already be recorded, so therefore there is no requirement to actually have this amendment. If that is the case, I would ask: what is the problem with accepting something that effectively is not going to harm or affect the bill?

What we are saying is that it is one thing to collect this information but it is important to make it public and report on it so that everybody knows what the trends are, what is happening in terms of people who are choosing to take their life and what we can do to ultimately improve health care in this state. I would argue that if there is anything we can do in terms of medical research to improve health care, then we should be doing that.

In the instance of this assisted dying legislation, if we discover that particular types of diseases are affecting people to such a degree that people are choosing to end their life through this particular legislation that we are about to pass, then we should make that information available. This amendment does not talk about releasing people’s personal details.

In fact, the bill says that it would include:

… de-identified information of a person, who has during the relevant reporting period accessed or requested access to voluntary assisted dying under this act …

This is all about improving health care. I accept that people have different views, and I accept that people approach this legislation from different perspectives — I absolutely get that — but why would you vote against an amendment that specifically says that we are going to do whatever we can in this state to improve health care? If you actually approach this from the perspective that you are easing the pain of an individual by administering a drug to take them out of that pain and therefore passing this legislation, why would you not want to know which diseases are causing that pain? If it is bowel cancer, as in the case of my mother, why would you not want to know that that is the disease that is causing more people than ever to make the ultimate decision of taking their life? If that is the case, we need to invest more money in those areas. We need to ensure that the pain that those people are suffering does not cause them to ultimately take their life.

This is a very important amendment that the member for Warrandyte has moved here tonight. It is very important because I would think that in the state of Victoria, where we pride ourselves on health care, we should be looking at investing in the areas that are affecting Victorians the most — those who are suffering most. I would think that no matter what side of the debate you argue on tonight — whether you are on the side of the yes and you want this bill to come to fruition, or on the side of the no — that in this particular circumstance you would support collecting this data. This is not about targeting people because part of the bill says that we will de-identify the information. It is all about improving the bill.

Rather than people just voting en bloc in these sets of circumstances, what we should be doing from here on is trying to improve the bill to get the best outcome for everyone. If you are going to vote en bloc simply because you are supporting a particular side of the argument, then you are not thinking this through. You are not thinking this through to be able to say: how can we ultimately get the best outcome? How can we get the best outcome for all Victorians? How can we get the best outcome for those people who are suffering the most?

If you care ultimately about the people that are suffering the most, the people that are dealing with the most amount of pain, then you would actually vote for this amendment. Supporting this amendment would say that we understand those people that are suffering the most, we would invest in health care in those areas the most and we would ensure that those suffering do not continue to suffer because we are being negligent by not considering this particular amendment.

I support the amendment moved by the member for Box Hill. We have mentioned a number of times during this debate the importance of safeguards, and the whole intent of having two practitioners to carry out the assessment is for that safeguard. This is a very sensible amendment because it is very explicit in saying that the opinions are ones which will be absolutely independent. We again need to ensure these safeguards are there and do take place for absolute certainty.

Again, I certainly ask that the minister take this amendment very, very seriously, because it is one that is trying to strengthen the bill. It is trying to ensure that there are absolute safeguards in place, rather than having a situation in which you ultimately have practitioners set up to fast-track or to expedite the process and not ensure that there are proper, independent opinions. Simply by having an amendment like this does ensure those safeguards exist. I support the amendment from the member for Box Hill.

The question again relates to clause 4 and the decision-making process. Minister, if the situation is such that the individual is seeking assistance from a non-family doctor, somebody who does not know the history of the person’s situation, is there any obligation or any option for the doctor to actually go back and seek that history to confirm whether the person has the capacity to make that decision?

So therefore a patient who is, for instance, suffering from bipolar could go to a new doctor and present in one particular fashion. There is no obligation for that new doctor to seek some history before ultimately giving the patient the medication to end their life.

I rise to support the amendments of the member for Eildon in terms of reducing the time from 12 months to six months. I appreciate the element of medicine not being an exact science. There have been questions in terms of predicting the end of life, and there have certainly been countless examples where science has been proven wrong. In fact when the initial debate on this bill took place we heard many, many times from many speakers about situations where doctors had said that somebody had been told a particular length of time and decisions were made in some instances in planning around that, and in many instances people ended up living long beyond that period. I cite my own experience, because with my mother she was literally given days and those days turned into 20 years.

As I mentioned in my speech, my mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and we were told that we needed to say our goodbyes at that point and that it would be a matter of days and that we had to plan for her end of life. I can recall looking at her, and the tubes just about completely covered her in emergency, in intensive care at Cabrini Hospital, and we thought that was it. Let me tell you that if I were to have taken that exact science that people in this chamber are referring to and thought that the best way for her was for her to end her life in that period, I would probably have lost the best 20 years that I had with my mum. Yes, she ended up living those 20 years with bowel cancer, managed, but it certainly did not harm her quality of life in any way. She had a great life. She got to see her children grow. She got to see her grandchildren come into this world and to spend time with those grandchildren.

I think this is obviously a very, very important debate. We are going to have varying points of view on a number of these clauses, but this is again one of those really important clauses where we want to make sure that we can give the best opportunity for life. I understand there are people who think that we want to end pain and we want to end people’s lives when it is absolutely certain that they have a terminal illness and that that is it — their time is up. But to say that that is 12 months from now — 12 months is a long time in anyone’s book, particularly with the modern-day medicine that we have and particularly with the great health care that we have — that we would just cite that and say, ‘No, 12 months. Here’s your tablets. Go away. You’re going to be out of here in 12 months, so we are prescribing for you now’, I think we need to be thinking long and hard about these sorts of things.

This is again, as we have said on many occasions, one of the most important bits of legislation that we will debate in this Parliament — for sure — and we need to get it through in the best possible way. Some would say that by passing this legislation today it is already a failure, but that is why we are debating this clause by clause, that is why we are taking the time that we are taking and that is why we have spent the time that we have.

It is not to be frivolous in any way. It is to make sure that we get the best possible outcome we can and to make sure people like my mother have the best possible opportunity of quality of life, not ending their life early because of the stroke of a pen and saying, ‘No, you know what, 12 months — don’t worry about six. Don’t worry about more than a certain time left — just say 12 months and administer the drug’.