November 16, 2016
Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (20:36):
I rise to speak on the Death with Dignity Bill 2016. Whilst I think it is rather a misnomer of description of what we are about to do, I indicate that unlike all preceding bills in the time I have been in the parliament that have offered this sanction and protection, I will be supporting the second reading. I indicate to you that, whilst the detail has been outlined by a number of members, to me, the thing that is impressive and distinctive about this bill is the proposal to reform our current laws.
Firstly, it allows adults of sound mind to formally request that their suffering be ended at a time of their choosing. Secondly, it ensures that the participation in the making of that request for voluntary euthanasia and the administration of the same be in accordance with strict requirements so as not to amount to a criminal offence or cause a person to suffer any other discrimination or liability. Thirdly, it ensures that the participation in the administration of the voluntary euthanasia in accordance with the rules is not to amount to a criminal offence itself. Finally, it protects those persons who decline to be involved in the making of requests for and the administration of voluntary euthanasia.
It is fair to say that although the Death with Dignity Bill is described in that way, in my view, death is far from dignified. It is permanent, it is ugly, it is something which none of us aspire to. We frequently see people we love in the throes of death, and there is nothing pleasant about it. Of course, we aspire for those we love to have as peaceful as possible a passing, but the reality is that it is not something that any of us want to see or in fact participate in. It is inevitable, but it is far from dignified.
Any sane, civilised human being would want to ensure that any of their colleagues in any form is able to have as peaceful and painless a passing as possible. We would not be a civilised community if we did not expect that, but that is not what has motivated me in considering this matter; therefore, you are not going to hear a rendition from me of the number of people I have sat with as they have died, as close as they were, whether a brother or a husband or parents, because we all experience that.
It is unpleasant—that is the kindest way you could describe it—but we all have to deal with it. For me, I think to be persuaded by the personal experience of any of those things would leave me deficient as a member of the parliament. You can say it is a humane approach, but the reality is that we have to look at what we are actually being asked to do and consider whether it is warranted and acceptable, and whether this legislation is going to be robust enough to implement what we aspire to in these objectives, with sufficient protection against the concerns.
In short, because I am usually fairly blunt on these things, this is an act to sanction the statutory killing of another person, and essentially we are asking health professionals to do that. I will come to that in a moment, because to me we ought to be looking at the consideration of that in what I call a collision between the development of our criminal laws and what we expect at one level, and what we then expect those in the health world to provide for us. Take away the personal aspect of this and actually understand the collision of two important developments in our law and in the practice that we operate as a humane and civilised community.
Firstly, let us look at the criminal law. In South Australia, it is largely codified in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. It is supplemented by our common law. Under section 11 of that act, any person who deliberately kills someone can be convicted of murder and obviously can face life imprisonment with a minimum 20-year non-parole period. There are a number of other ancillary offences in relation to conspiracy, confederacy, or soliciting to commit murder, and they have corresponding penalties, but essentially it is about deliberately killing someone else.
There are circumstances where it can be reduced, allowing for a manslaughter conviction and a corresponding reduced sentence, or indeed to have complete protection, such as in a self-defence situation, to be acquitted of such a charge. Then we have the criminal neglect charges and offences we have developed in this parliament in the time I have been here. It is sobering to look at that again because, whilst that legislation was born in an environment where children were left neglected in their homes, it is also to deal with the vulnerable, and they include the aged. That is often what we are talking about within this debate. That carries a 15-year penalty.
Then there is suicide. Suicide is not something which you can punish a successful person for doing, because they are dead, but there are very serious offences for those who aid and abet someone who takes their own life or attempts to take their own life. Again, multiple years of imprisonment apply. Then there are special provisions in our legislation where attempting to procure an abortion outside a legal time period—the killing of a child in vitro—can attract an imprisonment term of life, whether you are trying to kill your own child or assist somebody else to do it. These are very serious offences, not to mention concealment of the death of a child at birth.
We have established a very severe and clear level of criminal law which prohibits us taking the life of another. I am not going to go through all the exceptions that allow the killing of others in warfare and certain circumstances—of course there are always exceptions with those things—but we demand, in a civilised community, that you do not kill each other. That is the requirement; that is fundamental. On the other hand, we have our health professionals, particularly medical practitioners and nurses, but there are a number of other health professionals in this category.
Can I put them as a general group—I hate to generalise, but I will on this occasion—and firstly say to them: thank you for the work that you do in trying to assist us, from birth to death, as best you can, to provide us with a healthy life and recover and intervene when required. We do thank you for that. We also need to appreciate that, especially with the capacity to intervene in the health of a person, the development of anaesthetics, the surgical techniques and the provision of drug intervention have enabled us to not just prolong life but, obviously, to ask our health professionals to intervene on a regular basis.
We do that in a circumstance where, if we instruct them to do that and provide them with the authorised and informed consent, they are able to actually conduct procedures on us which can result in our death, and sometimes that happens; in fact, it happens on a daily basis. We give consent for health professionals to intervene to be able to undertake surgery, for example, in circumstances where there is sometimes a reckless indifference to the outcome, but also to a circumstance where the health professional knows and will advise of the very serious risk of death or disability arising out of a procedure of intervention to which the patient has consented.
We now have a situation where we have an expectation from the health professionals to provide us with the best possible, healthy and pain-free life that we can have, in a collision course with a very severe criminal sanction arrangement. I think it is incumbent upon us to look beyond the personal pain that we might individually suffer and say to ourselves, 'Can we allow this to continue in a circumstance where the lines have been blurred?'
I ask this sometimes of the health professionals: how do you deal with a neonate who is born with major disability? How can you provide for that protection? In my view, we need to explore this bill and obviously make it as robust as we can with the amendments that have been foreshadowed. It will have my support in passing the second reading.