Read: David Speirs MP's Speech Against The SA Bill

16 November, 2016

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 20:53 ): 

I was not going to make a contribution tonight on this bill, having spoken at length on the previous version of the bill, but after some consideration I thought it was worthwhile putting some of my views regarding the bill and my general concerns about voluntary euthanasia in general on the public record.

I want to cover a couple of topics tonight: my concerns regarding the impact of voluntary euthanasia on the medical profession; the inevitable broadening of the legislation, which we have seen occur in other jurisdictions; the supposed popularity in the wider community of voluntary euthanasia, something that I would dispute; and the unintended impact that voluntary euthanasia could have on people who are particularly vulnerable in our society.

Firstly, I would like to put on the public record my thanks to those who have advocated for this bill, particularly my colleagues the members for Morphett and Ashford, who have worked diligently for a long time, much longer than I have been in parliament. I have appreciated their decency. They know that I am not predisposed to agreeing with this sort of legislation, but they have answered my questions, they have talked me through specific aspects of the bill and they have given me the opportunity to respectfully have my say during this process as well. I do want to thank them for that and also thank many of the people in the community who have respectfully lobbied me one way or the other with regard to their views about voluntary euthanasia and whether it should or should not be brought into law in South Australia.

In many ways, voluntary euthanasia and the ability to come to the end of one's life in a dignified way with minimal pain and suffering makes a lot of logical sense. We have heard many stories during this debate, both on this bill and on the previous bill, about when we, as people elected to represent our communities, have in our personal lives been impacted by people's end-of-life journeys. While that is important, I think that we have to be very careful not to let the emotions of those personal circumstances be too final in helping us come to a conclusion.

Death is inevitable and suffering on earth is inevitable. While it should shape us, in many ways I do not think that it should be the definitive reason, one way or the other, that we should or should not support voluntary euthanasia. Too often, I have received emails from people saying that a brother, a husband, a wife, a sister or a grandparent has experienced interminable suffering. That has been unhelpful to me in coming to a conclusion around this legislation. I do not think it is useful to throw those anecdotes into this debate because, as I say, while we are shaped by our personal experiences, at the end of the day we are lawmakers and we have to look at the possible consequences of this legislation now and down the track.

I want now to work through a few quick points as to why I have particular concerns about voluntary euthanasia in general and also about this legislation. Firstly, I want to talk about the medical profession. There is no doubt in my mind—and this was discussed very effectively by the member for Wright earlier this evening—that the medical profession, in order to cope with the introduction of voluntary euthanasia, has to undergo a transformative experience.

The whole medical ethics system has to be turned on its head. In Australia today, medicine is about the preservation of life. If you add the option of the legalised ending of life, as some people say and as I have quoted before, state-sanctioned killing—I know that is strong language, but that is what this is—into the medical profession, you create a range of complexities that are very difficult to deal with.

I also think that the palliative care sector, in particular, is hugely impacted by the introduction of voluntary euthanasia. We should be very proud of where palliative care is in Australia at the moment. We have seen significant research and development undertaken in palliative care over several decades, but particularly in recent times. We have got to a place where, in most circumstances—not in all circumstances, but in most circumstances—palliative care should be able to comfort people when they are in significant pain and adding voluntary euthanasia into the mix negates the need to invest in palliative care, there is no doubt at all about that.

I have said quite a few times that I am concerned about the slippery slope that is introduced when voluntary euthanasia is legislated for, and I found it interesting when the member for Light described that more as the inevitable broadening of legislation rather than calling it a slippery slope, when you see the legislation in other jurisdictions expanded and expanded and expanded. That does happen, there is absolutely no way you can get away from that. It does not stay tight.

In other jurisdictions, when there has been the opportunity to broaden this legislation, we have seen that occur. We have seen it occur particularly in European nations, and I have said here before that Belgium and the Netherlands are specific examples of that, where children can now be euthanased. There is no getting away from that; I am not scaremongering by saying that children can be euthanased in Holland and Belgium.

A couple of weeks ago the euthanasia advocates in this parliament put on a panel which was held in Old Parliament House, where people were explaining why they supported voluntary euthanasia. I went along to that and posed a question to the panel, asking them whether, if we passed this legislation, they would put down their tools, go off on holiday and find other pursuits rather than being advocates of voluntary euthanasia, or would they seek to broaden it. I thought they would humour me, I thought they would say to me, 'Look David, we are very happy to see this legislation introduced and that will be that,' but actually they did not. They said that they would, in many circumstances, like to see the broadening of the legislation—and that was it, admitted to.

We have also seen broadening of the legislation already happen in what I see as the crystal ball into the future, which was the first piece of legislation introduced into this parliament at the beginning of 2016. It clearly showed what the advocates for voluntary euthanasia in this state want, and that is that much broader and, in my view, more dangerous legislation. I believe that is the future of voluntary euthanasia legislation in South Australia if this is passed this evening.

There is the problem of vulnerable people, in particular. In my view, ideologically I believe that government is here to catch the most vulnerable people, to protect them, to give them the best chance in life. That is the role of government. So, when it comes to people with mental illnesses but also terminal illness, or suffering from a disability but also suffering from a terminal illness, or moving in and out of cognitive function, how do we capture those vulnerable people? How do we protect them from this legislation? In the worryingly expanding sphere of elder abuse, which is very much top of mind in policy-making in Australia at the moment, people who are subject to elder abuse are also at risk when it comes to voluntary euthanasia being legislated.

Finally, I want to talk about its supposed popularity in the broader community. I just do not think that is the case at all, and I do get sick of people saying that 80 per cent of South Australians or 80 per cent of Australians support voluntary euthanasia. In a quick phone poll, yes, they do, but when you have informed decision-making, when you have informed discussion about this through focus groups and processes like the citizens juries that are often advocated by the Premier, that sort of informed decision-making, this support falls away. It falls away dramatically and ends up below 50 per cent, and the research shows that is the case.

Capital punishment for murderers and paedophiles is supported by more than 50 per cent at first glance, but that falls away as well, and this is very similar. I cannot support this legislation at second reading, and those are just some of the reasons that is the case.

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