Ms Patten(Northern Metropolitan) — This report is the culmination of hundreds of conversations and over 1000 submissions, and I am very honoured to have been part of this inquiry. I can honestly say it has been one of the best experiences of my working life. I would like to thank my fellow committee members and of course Lilian Topic and her team. I am sure that at the beginning of this none of us would have thought we would agree on so much.
Life and death are not opposites; birth and death are. Life is that ever-present force that goes on regardless of birth and death, but talking about death is hard for many people. Planning for the end of life is not something that comes easily, even for doctors.
Talking about end-of-life options is difficult. As one doctor told us, it is sometimes easier to continue treating someone than to have a conversation with them. Our population is ageing, but over the past 50 years we have been separated from death even though it is the one true absolute in all of our lives.
What struck me throughout this inquiry was that the common thread in getting better outcomes in all situations was having a conversation, whether this meant having earlier access to palliative care, doctors being able to better treat someone, knowing the values and wishes of a patient and their family or just knowing when they could say goodbye.
We need to educate about palliative care. Australia is a leader in this relatively new field of medicine but there are ways we can improve it, and the first 30 recommendations in the report provide practical measures to do this. These recommendations were developed after speaking to the passionate volunteers, nurses, doctors and community and professional organisations from all over Victoria and internationally.
Again the core message is about talking, and for some reason we find that difficult. While we might make our wishes clear about what will happen to our worldly goods when we die, we do not plan for ourselves. It is very clear that we need to improve our approach to advance care planning. The report makes a number of recommendations on this and advocates using technology to ensure that a person’s wishes are known to their family, their doctors and their carers.
I give my heartfelt thanks to the people who contributed to this report, many of whom are here today. Their willingness to share their experiences publicly was brave and generous. In particular I want to thank someone who is not here, the late Peter Short, who encouraged the initiation of this enquiry. This is a broad report, but there is no doubt that the community’s interest is in physician-assisted dying. The vast majority of submissions raised this. So many of our witnesses spoke about it. I remember a parent talking about the death of their daughter who was moving into her adult life with gusto and promise. The tragic end to her life from brain cancer could have been so much better. Coroners and police told us of the terrible lengths that people with terminal illnesses have gone to to end their lives, and sons and daughters spoke of the unnecessarily painful deaths of their parents. As legislators we must do something about this.
Visiting jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying enabled us to see firsthand the reality, the transparency, the regulations and the compassion. The community is in agreement that the time has come for improved investment in palliative care and clearer advance care planning and, importantly, that we do the right and compassionate thing and introduce proper legislation on physician-assisted dying for those that are at the end of their lives. As a community we want to prolong life, not death. I commend this report.