Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017


Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) (20:22:27) — I rise to speak about the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. Certainly Mr Leane is a very hard act to follow, and I think I might just turn it right down from 11 at this point. But I thank Mr Leane for his contribution — always passionate and nice to see such a contribution from a colleague in Eastern Metropolitan Region. I firstly want to talk about the many, many conversations I have had in relation to this particular matter. I am sure every MP in this chamber has an inbox full of emails either advocating for or against, and all of them in their reading could be valid in relation to this particular bill. But I think for me what was most compelling were the chance conversations I had with many, many people in my community.

As members would know, we are often out in our community talking to our constituency about a whole range of matters — to people from many different backgrounds and from many different political persuasions. What was very compelling to me was the level of support to see this particular bill go ahead as one of the most humane things we could do as parliamentarians. The depth and level of support in the community really struck me from people I perhaps did not even think would support voluntary assisted dying. They were very compelling conversations that I had.

I want to congratulate my colleagues who have spoken so far. Ms Springle, the lead speaker for the Greens, certainly gave a compelling contribution and addressed many of the technical issues in relation to the bill. I certainly will not be repeating her contribution, and nor should I, but I want to thank her particularly from my perspective for her contribution on this issue and those countless months she spent on the inquiry in relation to this matter. I know it would not have been an easy task, and it was not an easy task. Ms Springle, you certainly did the Greens proud in relation to your contribution to that inquiry.

I would also like to congratulate my colleague Ms Hartland, who I think originally introduced a bill into this place in 2008. It is Ms Hartland's tireless work in relation to this that I have an enormous respect for in terms of trying to bring a more humane approach to people who are facing their end days in terrible circumstances, in what can be very painful circumstances. She has been a champion of this for a very long time, and I certainly thank her for her ongoing support of this issue.

It concerns me that much of the email traffic in relation to this that I have seen pits palliative care against voluntary assisted dying, because nothing could be further from the truth. It is not one or the other; they are complementary. I am not going to go into the depths of that argument, because I think that was most eloquently expressed in this debate by Minister Pulford. There could be no more compelling argument as to why those issues are not pitted against each other than the contribution of Ms Pulford.

I also, in terms of recognising the contributions this evening, want to commend Mr O'Donohue for his contribution, particularly in relation to his comments around the scaremongering that we hear around this issue and the slippery slope that we are embarking on. In fact we have not seen that happen in other jurisdictions. I thank Mr O'Donohue for the clarity of his comments in relation to that and also congratulate him on his role in relation to the parliamentary inquiry into those matters.

I believe Mr Melhem might have made reference to Harry Gardner in his contribution. Harry is a constituent of mine. He visited me very early in the piece. Harry was looking for some advice about how he should go and lobby MPs who perhaps were not supportive of voluntary assisted dying. Harry is an amazing gentleman. He is 90 years old. He looks very sprightly, but he is suffering from metastatic prostate cancer and he is undergoing chemotherapy. Harry wants options, and they are options that are not available to Harry at the moment. Harry despairs at the fact that those options are not available for him and for people who are suffering like him. Harry says:

As a humanist I want the government to assist me to die respectably at the time of my own choosing rather to suffer the indignity and pain associated with the religiously protracted palliative care.

Harry is an inspiration because, despite his terminal illness and despite his undergoing chemotherapy, he worked tirelessly to advocate to other MPs to try and make them understand his life journey, his desires and what he wants to do in terms of choices when it comes to his end days.

It is certainly an issue that I probably resolved a very long time ago in my own mind. It goes back to a time more than 30 years ago when in fact my grandfather had lung cancer and was dying. There was a time during that period that he was put in a place that, sadly, locally was colloquially termed the death house, and my family were on the death watch of my grandfather. For many weeks my grandfather could not speak. I do not know what his choices would have been if he could have spoken.

I do not know if he would have chosen this, but the reality is that it was not a choice for him, and we sat there for many weeks watching him fade. I so wanted to know what he thought, but we could not know because we could not speak to him. He could not speak. In the end, I think — and our family speculated — that he had just a bit too much morphine, and that day was the biggest relief for all of us in our family.

I was 21 when that happened. For many, many years I have thought that the kindest thing to do is let people decide how they want to die. It is not about saying you have to die. It is not about saying you have to go down this road. It is about giving people choices about what road or path they take. The reality is that we will not know what path we will choose until we are on that path, but I want to make sure that we have choices. I want to make sure that if you are in extraordinary pain, like my grandfather was, you have a choice and you can choose voluntary assisted dying as a way to end that interminable pain that you are in.

I want to make it clear that although the Greens have had a very, very strong position in relation to this and always have, it is a position that I held long before I ever joined the Greens. For me it is the kindest and the most humane approach to this issue. For me, regulating choice and giving people control gives some comfort. It is for those very reasons that I will be supporting this legislation, and I urge colleagues in this house to support it. To do anything else is unkind and is inhumane.