November 16, 2016
Ms DIGANCE ( Elder ) ( 21:14 ):
I rise tonight to share reflections on this bill from which many complex conversations and considerations have arisen. These issues and considerations are, rightly so, compounded by deep belief and deep emotion and, for many, profound conviction. I acknowledge the ultimate outcome of this bill being to facilitate an imminent passing as chosen by an individual, enabled through a process of a very personal deed of an individual acting on their own wishes.
In the main, the bill before us proposes a framework of laws to guide and enable a compassionate society on a journey. This bill is unique as it asks all parliamentarians to face issues of mortality, ethics and values, while balancing the wishes of differing viewpoints in the community. It asks every MP—all of us—to reflect, debate and challenge our role, representation and beliefs, while challenging a dialogue of a civilised, mature and compassionate society.
I thank those who have driven this process on both sides of the debate for their dedication and commitment, and also those in this place for the conviction and work on the voluntary euthanasia bill over the years; namely, the late Dr Bob Such and the current members for Ashford and Morphett.
I pay tribute to the humility of my professional nursing and midwifery colleagues, who on a daily basis care and support those at the end of life to the most dignified and personal end possible. I am proud to be a South Australian, part of a society that is committed to a passionate and robust dialogue, all the while and in the main, underpinned by respect.
I also make note and am respectful to those who have taken the time to write individualised letters, talk with me and share their individual stories, reflections, views and platforms and their most personal recounts and thoughts. While, like most in this chamber, I have personal stories and experiences around death and dying, I also have professional stories which inevitably return to the core of what it means to be human and are thus personal by default.
I also wish to acknowledge that my decision is not simply about what I believe and subscribe to, but is also, at best, a representation of those whose voices I am charged with. My professional experience has presented me with some very challenging situations that for one family became public through despair and helplessness.
A beautiful young family woman around the age of 40 had such a severe form of muscle neuron disease that it meant she lay on a waterbed for 24 hours of every day. She was contorted, with no movement in her limbs, and fixed in a twisted posture. Not able to sit, let alone stand, all she could do was lie. It would take four nurses to turn her frail frame and to gently manage her shrivelled limbs and painful spine to the alternate position. She still developed horrific bedsores, no matter how often and carefully we turned her and tended her paper thin skin.
She could not hold a spoon to feed herself. She could not hold a straw to drink water. She could not wash herself, use her bowels without help or brush her teeth without help. She could not hold a book or magazine to read. All she could do was lie in this bed, breathe—and that became more and more laboured—and depend on those around her to do absolutely everything for her. Her husband visited every day without fail, but they had stopped her children from visiting as she found it far too painful and upsetting, with the guilt and hurt overwhelming.
She was a beautiful, grateful young woman who had lost her dignity and who, every day, every hour, every minute and every second, waited and prayed for death to ease her intolerable situation and for all who cared and she cared for. Her burden was excruciating. Her pain was extraordinary. She was trapped in a body that gave her such grief and sorrow as she waited, hoped and prayed for the end, not just for her own relief but for that of her young family and husband. She knew, and we all knew, that that day would come.
For her, this bill would have given her that safety net of relief, that safety net that she had choice. To turn a blind eye to those so distressed at the end of their life that they take their own life under a cloud of guilt and stealth, seeking eternal apology, is not, in my view, a hallmark of a compassionate and caring society. While I am a strong proponent of palliative care, it is oftentimes not available or, indeed, offered to all South Australians and oftentimes seen as a simple administration of pain relief only in which an increased dose will help the patient simply slip away.
Palliative care is in fact so much more than this. It is the treatment of pain and other difficulties, physical, psychosocial and spiritual, integrating psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care, offering a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death, offering a support system to help families to cope during the patient's illness and in their own bereavement using a team approach to address the needs of patients and families, including bereavement counselling. We, as MPs, must champion this robust universal system and make death and dying at home, where possible, the norm.
I would promote that this bill before us work as a proponent, an impetus to strengthen palliative care services and ensure a robust and accessible system for all South Australians, with clear support and explanation to the patient and those surrounding the patient. I know there are many MPs like me in this place who hold this conviction and wish to champion this. However, this does not take away an individual's right for choice. Tonight in this place, we are faced with an extraordinary responsibility and a grave duty, and I for one am humbled by the faith and trust that South Australians place in all of us here as their representatives. I welcome this debate and the pending vote.