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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 2261 ..

MR CONNOLLY (11.33): Mr Speaker, the issue of euthanasia raises for legislators very fundamental questions about life, death and the state, and almost by definition is probably the most difficult question that will cross our desks. It is made more difficult for me as a member of the Labor Party because our party has a platform commitment that favours active euthanasia on a voluntary basis and subject to quite tight safeguards and restrictions. Last year when this issue was debated in the Assembly my party took a view not to support the Moore Bill. This year my party has taken a different decision and, as a very long-term and very loyal member of my party, that did cause me great distress. It is, and this should be put on record, a recognition of the great maturity of the Australian Labor Party that since I and my colleague Bill Wood made our concerns public we have had statements from our parliamentary leader, from the president of our party in the ACT, John Langmore, and from the secretary of our party, Doug Thompson, that make it clear that our party is big enough and broad enough and mature enough to accept that on this issue members may have different views and those views may be expressed by way of different votes from those of the majority of my colleagues.

Having said that, I must say that it is not an easy question. I am pleased that in the debate so far nobody has sought to say that this is a simple question where all the right is on one side, because it is not. There are two fundamental and conflicting principles in the euthanasia debate. Both of them are principles that I think most members would broadly support. The first is the basic principle of the sanctity of life, which can be seen as a religious principle but can also be seen as a fundamental principle of humanist law, morals and ethics. We on this side of the chamber, and I hope those on the other side, would be all of one voice on the issue of the state taking life by way of retribution for a criminal act. It is not necessarily from a religious point of view that one can say that the sanctity of human life is a fundamental principle. There is also a fundamental principle of autonomy, a fundamental principle that an individual should be able, as far as possible, to choose their own way of life, their course of life. Again, on this side of the chamber we have had a very strong commitment to anti-discrimination legislation as to tolerance to the principle of individual autonomy.

On the question of euthanasia, those two principles come into obvious conflict. Nobody, I think, would take an absolutist view of autonomy in relation to the right to end a life. Mr Moore himself limits this principle. An absolutist principle of autonomy would sanction the practice of suttee, when a widow or widower leaps upon the funeral pyre. It may be a fundamental religious belief, but we would probably all accept that the state should prevent it. No-one, not even the most passionate advocates of voluntary euthanasia, would, I think, advocate the state providing assistance for suicide for people with a mental illness who seek to end their life. I have not seen anybody advocating that the provision of assisted suicide in those circumstances would be a sensible measure.

It does concern me somewhat, to come to some of the detail of the Bill, that in a very good paper from a person who does advocate that the law should sanction the right to euthanasia in cases of extreme pain - this is a paper by Professor David Lanham of Melbourne University in a recently published book on law reform, Tomorrow's Law, published by a group connected with the ANU Law School - he cites a recent Dutch case where a woman who had recently had a most unsatisfactory divorce and whose children had recently died asked a psychiatrist to provide her with the requisite lethal dose of pain-killer. That provision was rendered lawful under Dutch law on the basis that she was

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