Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 - Second reading
Mr T. SMITH (Kew) (22:05:10) — It is a difficult thing we are doing this evening in debating the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. I know that there are very heartfelt views on both sides of the chamber, and indeed within parliamentary parties on both sides of the chamber, on this most vital and probably most societally changing piece of legislation that I will ever deal with in this place.
What is the problem we are trying to solve this evening? I think that is an important place to start. Everyone knows that we are mortal beings and one day we will pass away. The problem, according to some, is that people die long and horrid deaths in agony. Of course that is true, and I am not going to stand here and say otherwise. Palliative care can only do so much. I am very pleased with what the coalition has promised — $140 million, the largest palliative care announcement anywhere in the country, but no-one is suggesting, at least I am not, that people are not going to continue to die in pain, for that is the human condition. I wish it was not, but that is the case.
Neither can I say I am not incredibly moved, and indeed persuaded, by the idea that an individual — as the master of his or her own universe — ought to have the God-given autonomy to end their life when all hope is lost. But I must say there is something quite perverse about this bill, something that defies the natural order of things — something that is not quite right about it. I do not doubt for a moment, as I said, the morality of those who are committed to this reform — I am somewhat dubious as to the timing of it and indeed the politics of it, and I will talk about that later — but no side of politics, left or right, has a monopoly on compassion.
Yes, people get sick, often very unpleasantly, for that is the human condition. Pain is a part of the human condition. Dying, as much as we might hate to talk about it, is actually a part of living, but the job of the state, I would contend, is to care for these people. That has been the foundation of the modern Australian welfare state. The Labor Party would argue it has been for the best part of 40 years, but I would argue since the end of the war. It has certainly been free since the 1980s, and that is the great social safety net of our commonwealth — that all those who are in need are protected and cared for within our public health system.
Indeed that is the fundamental of our medical profession. That all those who are ill are cared for is the fundamental of the modern Australian state — to care for those who are in need. We may well have arguments in this place or in Canberra about the best way to allocate resources to achieve that goal, the best way to maximise public value in terms of the way taxes are spent for that aim — to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to protect all from all the ills of modern society, all the ills that can come from disease and all the ills from disability. These are the debates within the context of the modern welfare state that have permeated our debates for decades, and they will continue to do so.
When a predecessor of mine, the then member for Kew, Sir Rupert Hamer, was the Premier of Victoria we decided that our great state would no longer sanction the killing of any subset of our community. We abolished the death penalty — quite rightly so — because once and for all this part of our great commonwealth said, ‘Life is sovereign; life is paramount; life is the cornerstone of what we are trying to protect’, yet now we are trying to turn that maxim on its head. I do not support enabling the death of any subset of citizen — criminal, dying or otherwise — because it is fundamentally contrary to the Judaeo-Christian norms of decency, civility and, frankly, modernity.
It is fundamental to our medical profession to do no harm, and I thank the Lord for that because our doctors do enormous good, our medical professions do enormous good, our entire health care system does enormous good and the vast majority of doctors I have spoken to — all bar one — have implored me to vote against this bill. It has been hitherto in this state always an offence to aid and abet suicide, and it should remain so. It is my view that this bill best encapsulates modern civilisation’s misplaced compassion, indeed what I would call a hyper-individualism, which seems to preoccupy so many at the expense of any consideration of the country, the effects on society or the introduction into an area of medicine of more legislation that is opposed by the medical profession and, as I said before, every single doctor that I have spoken to. Put bluntly, this is the point where conservative Liberals place life and its protection — no matter how difficult it might be, how onerous it might be on families — above all else, that we suggest that we are going to see it through and stick by those who are in dire need to the very end. I will never send a message to the Victorian people that some lives are not worth protecting — that there are some lives not worth living.
I have consulted widely on this bill. Overwhelmingly the correspondence I have received on it has been opposed to any change in the law. I make that point again. For those constituents of mine who disagree with my position, I simply make the point that the vast majority of correspondence I have received from constituents has been opposed to this bill. I have genuinely listened to both sides of the debate. I have had many conversations with colleagues, family members and friends who have wildly different views to my own. But the simple fact is I cannot possibly support a bill that I think is so fundamentally flawed.
The very point at which a person can kill themselves under this piece of legislation is the point at which they go to the pharmacy and receive an unknown substance in a locked box. I have grave concerns because I do not know what that substance is. Can someone tell me what these three substances are?
Can I request an extra 5 minutes, Acting Speaker?
Mr T. SMITH — What are these substances? No-one can tell me. How can you put a bill to the Parliament of this magnitude, of this fundamental importance to our society, which will drastically change the medical profession and indeed the way that end-of-life care is conducted and the way that we essentially think about human life towards the end of peoples’ days, without being able to tell the Parliament what lethal substances — what poisons — will be used to kill someone? I find this incredible. It is beyond belief.
Equally, this is a government bill, and I make that point to those on my side of the house who might be in two minds about this. This is a government bill, and the government has no mandate to do this — none whatsoever. In fact it was explicitly ruled out by the Labor Party in the lead-up to the 2014 election. Given the basic democratic theory of this place — that things ought not be done without the consent of the people — I think that embarking on a reform of this magnitude, with the dire consequences that it will have if it is not done correctly or properly or with the safeguards that are purported to be in the legislation, without having a mandate from the people, is a grave sin against the democracy of this great state.
I conclude with these thoughts: the safeguards that have been included about the way the poisons are to be mixed, taken home and then ingested by the patient have so many variables attached to them I am not confident that misuse will not take place. I appreciate there are protections that have been built into this legislation for that, but if we all had utopian confidence in the nature of all people, we would not need any safeguards at all. That is not the case, and that is before we get to issues of individuals feeling compelled to die because they do not wish to see their family members so upset with their plight. I think that is a very real concern — family members feeling compelled to end their days because they do not wish to see their loved ones so upset at their plight.
I am concerned about the mixing of these unknown substances, this locked box scenario — the taking home of the locked box, the ingestion of these substances — and about whether or not these substances will actually work when they are ingested. Medicines work in different ways for different people, and honourable members will know that these substances untried in the first instance could prove not to be fatal, which would be traumatic to say the least.
I oppose this bill because I think it is a dire reform. I oppose this bill because I think it is fundamentally wrong. I oppose this bill because I do not believe the government has done sufficient due diligence. I oppose this bill because the government has no mandate for it. I oppose this bill because I do not feel it is necessary. I oppose this bill, because I think that is the right thing to do. I repeat: I do not cast aspersions on the morality or indeed the motives of those who passionately support it, but to my way of thinking I think this bill goes too far.