November 16, 2016
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN ( Lee—Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Minister for Housing and Urban Development) (20:27):
I start by congratulating the member for Morphett on introducing this bill. It is a bill which responds to a lot of the concerns that a broad cross-section of members had with the other bill that was before this parliament, introduced by the member for Ashford. This bill, the member for Morphett's bill, is, in my view, far closer to the community's conception of voluntary euthanasia than the previous bill from the member for Ashford.
This bill deals with the scenario of a terminally ill person, suffering intolerably, being able to request that their life be ended earlier than might otherwise occur from the ongoing deterioration of their physical health. This bill is clear that this person must have exhausted all medical treatments as well as palliative care options. This bill establishes a detailed regime for the making of a request for voluntary euthanasia, including a regime of medical assessments, psychiatric assessments, witnessing and a revocation of a request.
This bill also sets out how voluntary euthanasia is to be administered, a protection from liability, prescribing the appropriate cause of death on a death certificate, a reporting regime and a control regime for the administration, prescription and storage of drugs. It seeks, in some detail, to address the risks that are present in the existence of such a regime. My understanding is that this bill is an amalgam of other legislative instruments in effect in other international jurisdictions. This bill has the benefit of selecting those parts of those laws that attempt to best reflect the South Australian community's expectations when it comes to a regime for voluntary euthanasia.
This bill appears a more balanced, tighter and more conservative regime than those in operation in parts of Europe, in particular the Netherlands and Belgium. To my mind, that is a good thing. In my view, any attempt to legislate for a voluntary euthanasia regime should be very precisely targeting that small number of people in our community who are close to the end of their lives, who are suffering from a terminal and incurable illness, who have exhausted every medical and palliative care option reasonably available to them. These people, who are not only getting to the end of their life, are also at the end of their tether. They are suffering—and suffering unbearably.
Any legislation, in my view, should be firmly targeted towards these people and these people only. It should be a restrictive regime, and it should be exclusive to all those outside the predicament I have just outlined. There needs to be stricter requirements not just on who can make a request and what their medical circumstance is. There also needs to be stringent requirements on the process, the procedure, and the requirements of the request, and the assessments and the checks in place. This rigour is vitally important to the regime, and this is for a very good reason.
By legislating for a voluntary euthanasia regime, we are providing an extremely rare authority for the state to sanction the killing of one of its citizens by another. The Speaker, in his comments earlier, was absolutely correct: this is a very fine judgement for MPs to arrive at one way or another. It is a judgement that we have not made, and we do not make, in nearly any other circumstance under the laws of this state. It must only be allowed and authorised in the most narrow of circumstances and with the most stringent of requirements.
To that end, I must note this bill in its current form has some deficiencies. Please do not let me be misunderstood. This bill as it stands is a vast improvement on the previous bill, which is still, remarkably, before the parliament. For me to feel comfortable supporting this bill, the member for Morphett's bill, it requires substantial further amendment to ensure that it provides the necessary rigour of the process to which I have just alluded.
I am pleased to say that a substantial amount of work has been done by a range of members to draft amendments for consideration at the bill's committee stage should it pass at second reading. Many of these amendments satisfy some of my key concerns. However, we will all need to see which of these amendments succeed and make our own judgements about whether the bill at that point in time is sufficiently robust to support at the third reading. It is my view that if enough amendments pass, if enough of these issues are satisfactorily addressed, the bill could be strong enough to support by a majority of members, and I have to say that it is no easy task to get such a bill into that sort of shape.
I have spoken previously to this parliament about why parliaments, including this one, struggle to pass laws to allow voluntary euthanasia. From members' perspectives, there are those who object to voluntary euthanasia because it conflicts with their religious, ideological or even ethical beliefs. As I have said previously, in my view that is absolutely fine. Those members should have just the same right to express those views as any other members have the right to express their opposing views. There should be no criticism of people who oppose these bills, these measures and these laws based on their own personal beliefs.
There are also those members, perhaps like me, who are deeply concerned about the prospect of sanctioning killing in our community. Members like me, I believe, need detailed and specific safeguards within a bill to minimise the chance of any regime being accessed in circumstances where we believe it certainly should not be. Of course, there are those members who have always been in favour of voluntary euthanasia, indeed even some who have sought to push regimes which extend far beyond to those people beyond those whom this bill is aimed at.
Trying to deliver a bill which can mediate those concerns and satisfy enough people to become successful is incredibly challenging, and indeed may not succeed in this instance. I have to say that even this evening, let alone in the previous discussions I have had, I have learnt an enormous amount from the views, opinions and contributions of other members that have been expressed in the chamber and around the corridors.
Those opposed cite the challenging nature of the issue. How do we justify sanctioning killing in our community in this particular instance? Those opposed also cite the inherent risks in providing such a regime and the concerns, of course, that such a regime may be misused against vulnerable people. In my view, all of these are entirely valid concerns. The challenge for this parliament is to address these concerns and to try to demonstrate that there can be a workable regime with sufficient safeguards.
To my mind, the issue is no clearer than this: if you believe that there is currently a small number of people in our community, people who are suffering terribly as a result of incurable terminal illness, people who have exhausted every reasonably available medical intervention and people who have exhausted every reasonable palliative care option, people who despite going through that are still suffering intolerably who cannot bear their predicament who, if given a choice towards the very end of their life, would choose to hasten their death to die and to do so as far as they can on their own terms, should they not have that ability?
As a parliament, should we not prescribe a robust regime with as many checks, safeguards and protections that we can determine? I believe those people in that predicament should have that ability, and I believe that in this parliament we should provide that opportunity for them if we can, and that is why at the second reading I will support this bill.