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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 2270 ..

MS HORODNY (continuing):

health care workers were saying was absolutely true. It was all happening already with no regulations, no monitoring and no ethical guidelines. Because voluntary active euthanasia is currently illegal, there is much power in the hands of doctors and their judgment of a person's physical and mental state, with no accountability.

From people who are in the final stages of their lives I have heard, "How can someone tell me I have to keep going when I do not want to, when I have no will to live and when I have no quality of life, when I am in constant pain and distress and when, most importantly, I have prepared myself in the best possible way for death?". I know that people do not lightly make this decision to die, and I believe that we must respect people's right to determine when they die, if they are at this terminal stage in their life-threatening illness and if they are of sound mind. Over and over I have heard people say, "I do not want someone telling me I cannot die". At the present time, if someone chooses to die, with a loved one to see them out and to hold their hand, then that companion risks prosecution for assisting death or, rather, not preventing death. We force on these dying people the added pain of dying alone without a hand to hold as they pass away, without peace and dignity. We already put doctors in a huge ethical dilemma by technically classing as criminal the acts they perform now out of compassion, yet we do not charge them. This seems to be another area where the law has not kept up with the reality in our society.

This issue is a conscience decision in the Greens party. I have searched my conscience, and my deep sense of compassion for all living things tells me that it is wrong to force people tormented by excruciating pain and suffering great indignity to continue to linger. My visit to the hospice affirmed my great respect for the workers there, who do all they can for their patients, but palliative care cannot relieve pain in every circumstance. It is out of concern for these people who are not relieved that I will be supporting Michael Moore's Bill, with the seven amendments that Kerrie and I between us have developed to ensure that abuse does not occur. These amendments provide for stronger accountability of the medical profession and the coroner, including a review of the legislation after two coroner's reports have gone to the Attorney-General, that is, after the law, were it to pass, had been enacted for two years. Another amendment extends the so-called cooling-off period after signing the request from 24 hours to 72 hours.

One of the amendments that have been put forward is that the Bill not be enacted for at least six months, and there are two main reasons for this. One is to allow the medical profession the time to learn about the legal implications and, most importantly, the other is to allow the public to understand what is and is not covered by this Bill, whom it does and does not apply to, and what the accountability mechanisms really mean. If this Bill were to pass, I would like to see a strong public awareness campaign spelling out very clearly the legal and medical implications of voluntary euthanasia. I believe that, with the seven amendments Kerrie and I are proposing, the Bill would put in place very strong procedures to maximise accountability and to ensure that the Bill is used for the purpose for which it is intended, that is, compassionately to allow those patients who request it and for whom palliative care has not provided adequate relief the ability to die in peace and not to have their pain and misery drag on.

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