November 16, 2016
The Hon. T.R. KENYON ( Newland ) ( 21:57 ):
I do not think anyone in this chamber, even those in the gallery, will be surprised by my position on this bill. I should take a moment to thank members of the public in the gallery, all the galleries, for coming in. Looking up there, I think I probably agree with about a third of you and disagree with about two-thirds of you, but you have made the effort to come in, you are playing your part in democracy, you are a participant in our democracy and I wish there was more of it, so thank you.
I start my opposition to the bill and to euthanasia in general because I should make very clear that I will not be voting at the second reading and I will not be voting for this bill at the third reading; in fact, there is no bill that I would vote for because I have a fundamental opposition to euthanasia. It is partly informed by my faith—I have never been afraid to admit that—but not perhaps in the way people would expect. It is more in the way my faith informs my view of human nature.
I have some fundamental, for want of a better word, secular principals in which I believe. First, I do not believe that the state should be involved in the killing of its citizens. I believe that from abortion to capital punishment, to euthanasia, and anywhere in between. I make only one exception, and that is where law enforcement officers are acting to protect the life of other people—highly undesirable, but acting in the defence of others and themselves, I think, is defensible.
The other concern I have—and this comes back to human nature, as I raised before—comes back to the way where, when we talk about safeguards, there are two parts of safeguards. The first part of safeguards is their structure, the way they are written, the processes behind them, that are easily observable and written into legislation, regulation, process or policy of a hospital or care facility. The second part is their application by human beings: doctors, nurses and caregivers. This is where human nature comes into play because for safeguards to work effectively all the time, we have to rely on the perfect application of them by perfectly well-intentioned people every single time.
When that fails to happen, when people naturally either make mistakes or do the wrong thing—and let's not kid ourselves, from time to time people will do the wrong thing—that is when safeguards break down. If safeguards break down often enough, they become a norm, they become an accepted way of doing things, and they have completely and totally failed.
I do not believe in this instance or in any instance of euthanasia, or any legislation for that matter that we write, any of the safeguards that we put in are completely failsafe. The difference with euthanasia is that the results of a failure of a system or a failure of human nature can be fatal, and there is no coming back from that. That is part of my opposition to capital punishment. There are any number of examples where people have got them wrong and an innocent person has been killed. I do not accept that it would happen every time, perhaps not even often, but it will certainly happen from time to time and it may lead to innocent people dying.
I want to read an example of the subtle pressures and the potential breakdown in safeguards that we may enact that relate directly to human nature. We all received a large number of letters, and I now refer to one from a constituent whose sister was dying. It states:
When things were getting toward the end, and (keeping in mind that [my sister] had brain tumours,) [she] was still very coherent only tired and emotional, on this particular day the palliative nurse/s had gone in…to do their normal thing and for some reason they had been left alone with her. Later that day we found her very different, sad, distant, non-communicative, wouldn't engage with the Kids, [her husband, her father] or I. in fact, I could even say she was depressed—and I mean genuinely depressed. It wasn't until later that night when Dr Joseph (our family doctor and long time…friend to [my sister and her husband]) had dropped in to check on her, that [her daughter] mentioned [my sister] was ' very different ' and insisting she wanted to go in to [a] hospice and not die at home! We were devastated, but worse than that—she appeared to be more so than us!
So to cut a really long story short, Dr Joseph emerged from [my sister's] room to enlighten us. It turned out the change in Tess was simple, the nurse had made her believe that she was a burden, she felt she was a burden on her children and Dr Joseph (calling in late at night following his long days), worried that the family all had to live with the fact that she dies in the house that we remain in, concerned about the physical impact it was having on her kids having to medicate, move, feed her etc. etc.—generally worried about how everyone else was impacted by her illness!...Tess was convinced, by this outsider, that she was a burden to all and should go die in hospital. My sister was influenced and convinced (probably persuaded) by a total stranger to leave her loving family and home to go die in a hospice, where in our opinion SHE and every one of us would have suffered more…It took quite some convincing, but when she truly understood that she was wanted at home, she was ever so happy to remain and well you know the rest of it…
My point is, can you imagine if euthanasia was an option then? I dread to think.
That is an example of how subtle pressure can be applied, how systems can break down and where processes are deviated from. It may not even have been intentional pressure; it might have been an offhand response.
A number of people have mentioned dignity in dying in their contributions, and my firm belief is that dignity is not what happens to you: dignity is how you react to what happens to you and how you carry yourself. Just because very unpleasant things happen to me or to anyone else in this place or in the world does not mean we have lost our dignity. People cannot take dignity away from you. Your dignity is inherent in yourself. Every human being has their own dignity as a result of who they are and the fact that they exist—not what happens to them.
Finally, and this was mentioned by the Minister for Health, it has become clear to me from the numerous letters that I have received from the people I have spoken to over the course of this debate that there is systemic failure in the application of the palliative care act. We have actually been through this debate before. It was about 20 years ago when the palliative care act was written as a result of a two-year long, I think, select committee process. The palliative care act allows provisions for the medication of painkillers or sedatives to relieve pain or suffering up to and including the point of death, as long as the intention is to relieve pain or suffering, a secondary effect. That is the current law.
What has disturbed me, and in fact made me a little angry, to be honest, is how little these provisions are applied across our system, and how many people are clearly suffering more than they should be or is necessary. I would urge the Minister for Health to instigate a program to better educate doctors and palliative care specialists and nurses, right across the system, to have a better understanding of the existing provisions. I do not think at the moment that we have a problem with legislation, I think we have a problem with the application of legislation. Much of what faces us and much of what is driving this debate, the public debate especially, is the failure of the existing 20 year old legislation. I think that is a large problem.
With those words, I urge the house to reject this bill. I urge the house to vote against it at the second reading. If it does go through to the committee stage, I will be watching that. I indicate now that I will not be voting against any amendments, because I think that would be cynical, but I will not be voting for them either. I will not be doing anything to help make it easier for anyone to vote for this bill because I think the concept of euthanasia is fundamentally flawed.