Labor Member of the Legislative Chamber for Eastern Victoria.
IN THE coming weeks, the Victorian Parliament will consider a bill to enable Victorian adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, given a prognosis of 12 months or less and who are enduring intolerable suffering, to access medication to end their lives.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill includes a large number of safeguards to prevent coercion or duress by family members or others, and to enable medical practitioners to exercise a conscientious objection to assisting a terminally ill person to die.
Importantly, the circumstances in which this might occur do not extend to a diagnosis of conditions such as dementia and mental illness.
The Bill to enable voluntary assisted dying has been drafted following an extensive Parliamentary Inquiry and an expert medical panel’s report which has examined, amongst other things, the roles and responsibilities of the medical and health profession, the role of palliative care, and the overarching principles of self-determination and free will.
As a member of the Legislative Council, I take this issue, the Bill and my conscience vote extremely seriously.
To my mind, the proper exercise of a conscience vote on the Bill requires me not only to have regard to the moral, ethical, social, faith-based and legal consequences of enabling voluntary assisted dying, but also to the views of the people I was elected to represent in the Victorian Parliament.
I have met with, heard from and listened to doctors, health workers, palliative carers, legal practitioners and ethicists, community organisations and individuals from all over Eastern Victoria and I am intensely grateful for the views, personal stories and professional positions they have shared with me.
Many stories were about the most raw and ragged of our human emotions and experiences – stories of caring for beloved partners in their final months, weeks, days, hours and moments of life, of watching adult children beg for release, and of seeing relatives lose their dignity and privacy before dying in often intensely painful circumstances.
I also heard from people who hold grave fears that they or their loved ones will be forced prematurely into death by those who are misguided or act in bad faith or for improper purposes (such as financial gain), and from those who cannot reconcile assisting someone to die with the preservation and protection of life that is a central tenet of medical practice.
I have asked questions and sought answers, including about the way we must manage, fund and provide better access to palliative care and end of life treatment. And in doing so, I have been reminded of caring for my late brother as he died from prostate cancer, at the age of 42, in December 2015.
On this matter, I have felt the weight and expectation of the community daily, as I should, and as I am obligated to do.
I have held the shaking shoulders of those who have hugged me in grief, and in turn I have also cried, with the enormity of the decision and what it means, for that moment that will come to us all suddenly or slowly, painfully or not, alone or in the company of others.
And I intend to vote to support the Bill.
I will do this knowing it represents a position that many will disagree with for a range of reasons, but I will also do this having worked as hard as I possibly could to find a compassionate path through what is one of the most complex issues that we can face.
Next issue: Brian Paynter, Liberal MP for Bass, explains his position on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.