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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 06 Hansard (Wednesday, 20 September 1995) . . Page.. 1524 ..


MEDICAL TREATMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995

MR MOORE (10.32): Mr Speaker, I present the Medical Treatment (Amendment) Bill 1995.

Title read by Clerk.

MR MOORE: I move:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

Following the release of the exposure draft of the Medical Treatment (Amendment) Bill 1995, I now present the final Bill. This Bill has had the advantage of a great deal of consultation, debate and reflection. I believe that we now have a Bill that incorporates the best of all available legislation in this area, as it has incorporated many more safeguards for the patient's autonomy than the ones presented previously. That is what this Bill is about: Patient autonomy and choice. This house has heard me speak on many occasions on this subject, but I feel that I ought to point out to those who are still “on the fence” on this subject what the intentions of this Bill really are.

The arguments raised by the Right to Life, for example, have been that the proponents of this Bill are playing God. The reality is that someone will always play God on this issue. The question is: Who? Is it to be the state; that is, us? Or the doctors? Or the individual patient? Who do you believe is the more qualified to play God with our lives? The answer, if you believe even for a moment in personal autonomy, is: The individual. The person, and only that person, knows when that time is right. As Penelope Layland stated in the Canberra Times on Sunday, 3 September:

How dare anybody else tell me how much pain is bearable, how great the indignity I suffer must be. How dare anybody tell me that a God I am not at all sure exists should decide how and when I die. How dare they become His self-appointed earthly prison warders and keep me imprisoned in my body against my will.

No-one else can make a decision about our own quality of life. But still the quality of life argument is secondary to the one of choice. Many of the arguments raised against this legislation have, in fact, had nothing to do with this legislation. The most important word concept in this Bill is “voluntary”; that is, that, under certain conditions, a patient can make a choice that will be respected. That choice can be to have full treatment to the end, to have no treatment to the end or to have a doctor assist with that end. Without this Bill, we deny many the opportunity to choose the last of those. We may unwittingly be playing God and condemning people to long and agonising suffering, their only choice being whether or not to avail themselves of palliative care. The choice to some - not all by any means, but to some - is to have assistance to die when that person is ready.


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