Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak in support of Ms Hartland’s motion to refer the matter of voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill people to the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) for inquiry, consideration and report. I have enjoyed listening to the speakers so far, and I am looking forward to hearing more. I went to the last election supporting a parliamentary inquiry and reform on voluntary euthanasia. I think I sit in this place as a result of that campaign and that support for it. I believe in the right of a terminally ill individual to make an informed decision about the way they die and the right to a dignified death. It is a fundamental human rights issue, and that is why I support the motion today.
However, I acknowledge the views of others who oppose dying with dignity and the notion of voluntary euthanasia for religious or other reasons. An inquiry would enable us to tease out those views in a consultative and compassionate way. Having the Victorian Law Reform Commission conduct the inquiry would enable us to look at these views in a way that is separate from the passion of Parliament. I bear in mind that in many of the conversations I have had, and certainly those with colleagues in this house, there has been talk of palliative care. This needs to be in the mix as well. We are making incredible strides in the way we can work with people at end of life, and this should also be brought into any argument about voluntary euthanasia or dying with dignity.
I commend Ms Hartland on her many years of campaigning on this issue. Her work has not been unnoticed. She has progressed the debate, going from introducing what might have been an enthusiastic bill in 2008 to now proposing what I think is a more sensible approach — a Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry. I also thank the Leader of the Government, Mr Jennings, for some of his work in this debate on dying with dignity. I know that Peter Short acknowledged and took great encouragement from Mr Jennings’s visits to him in his final months.
I commend the opposition for indicating that it will allow a conscience vote on this important motion. People in the community have spoken loudly about their desire for members of this house to continue this debate and to explore it a lot further and in a lot more depth, as we have seen happen in other countries.
In the leadup to the 2014 election I was particularly inspired by Peter Short, a terminally ill man who campaigned tirelessly for the right to make his own endoflife decision. I became close friends with Peter, and he would certainly have encouraged me to speak out loudly on this issue — not just at this opportunity but at any opportunity. I feel privileged to speak about Peter today. He had cancer that had reoccurred. He was diagnosed in February last year and was given a few months to live. He wrote and tweeted every day about his life, giving his life a score out of 10: ‘Life, 10/10. How I’m feeling, healthwise, 5/10. How I’m feeling mentally, 8/10’. That constant campaigning gave him strength.
What also gave Peter strength was that he had access to Nembutal. It was not legal access, but he had access nonetheless. This probably gave him the ability to live longer than he may have done had he not had that access and that ability to make the decision about when the time was right for him and his family. That really brought this issue to the fore for me and for many other people. Former Premier Jeff Kennett’s views on dying with dignity were turned around after meeting with Peter Short and seeing that for a terminally ill person, simply knowing you have control and can make your own decision about the end of your life can gave you strength. I think Peter lived longer as a result of that knowledge.
I feel that our laws are out of touch with the community. I know many members will have received emails about this issue and will also have spoken about it to friends and family. The debate in our community at the moment is loud and clear. There is support for dying with dignity, and there is support for a conversation and some sort of law reform that recognises the community’s desire to make endoflife decisions personally and in discussion with their friends, families and doctors. A recent Newspoll study done on behalf of YourLastRight.com found that well over 80 per cent of Anglican Australians want this reform.
I have seen from the emails I received — and I am sure many members received similar emails — that religion plays a role in people’s opposition to this debate going forward. We live in a secular society where there is freedom of religion. I took great notice of the emails I received, and I respect people’s positions. What I found interesting about the Newspoll survey was that it showed that 77 per cent of Catholics and 88 per cent of those who recognise themselves as Anglican support law reform around dying with dignity. We are seeing that this is not a secular or atheistversusreligion debate. Regardless of their religious beliefs, people understand that we need to allow greater compassion at that endoflife stage.
A few weeks ago a woman in Bendigo ended her life. She left a message. She took Nembutal, which she had travelled overseas to buy. She had an excruciating illness, and with the support of her family she had decided that enough was enough and ended her life. I understand that her family is now being subjected to a significant police investigation regarding her decision to end her life at that time. I worry that if we do not further this debate, we are going to see more of these decisions being made outside a medical and legal framework. We are going to have people travelling to Mexico or buying substances online that they believe will enable them to make decisions more easily about when they end their lives. That is something we need to understand.
As our population ages, soon one in four Australians will be over the age of 65 and will be considering their endoflife choices. We know that prohibition has never worked in any regard. As an aside, I think we need to consider how we deal with people who choose to end their lives with substances like Nembutal and how we treat their grieving families after that.
Many members would have received emails expressing the concern that the Victorian Law Reform Commission is not the right body to handle this debate and further investigation. Ms Shing and Ms Pulford mentioned this. I responded to a few of the emails I received asking me to oppose this motion. I asked the authors of the emails whether they would be more supportive of a joint parliamentary committee inquiry. I am pleased to say that a number of them came back to me indicating their support for that.
Although I am opposed to euthanasia, I would support a parliamentary committee inquiry in the place of an investigation by the Victorian Law Reform Commission.
A parliamentary committee inquiry is definitely preferred over a VLRC investigation.
I appreciate Ms Wooldridge’s contribution to the debate. She said there was a misunderstanding of what a Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry would do and what it would achieve. It is not going to force a change of law; it will just conduct an investigation and undertake research.
However, I was encouraged by those people who wrote to me who were opposed to the theory and notion of voluntary euthanasia but who were nonetheless supportive of having a debate. That is very encouraging. I feel very strongly about this; it is something I am very passionate about.
I should not laugh, but I must relate a small anecdote to members. Last night I was watching Game of Thrones. I am sorry, but I must issue a spoiler alert.
Ms Shing — No spoilers!
Ms PATTEN — Yes, I am sorry. Put your hands over your ears. At one point last night the leader of the Wildlings, who has been sentenced to death by the evil king Stannis Baratheon, is placed on a funeral pyre to be burnt alive. Jon Snow stands by, watching while the chief of the Wildlings is about to be scorched. Prior to this happening, the leader of the Wildlings had asked if he could be executed in another way. But the evil Stannous Berathian refused and insisted that he be put to death on the funeral pyre. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we see an arrow slice through and kill the leader of the Wildlings before he could suffer too much pain. We then see Jon Snow standing defiant, bow in hand.
I thought that was an extraordinary analogy to this debate. This is not about ending people’s lives. This is not about killing people off or emptying our hospitals. This is about being compassionate to people who have come to the end of their lives. This is about giving those people more choices than just ending their life at the end of a morphine needle, when they no longer recognise their families and are seeing ants crawling up the walls. With that, I support the motion to refer the issue of voluntary euthanasia to the Victorian Law Reform Commission.