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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 2291 ..

MS McRAE (continuing):

For many individuals nothing they can do and nothing that can be done for them will make their suffering tolerable. I do not accept that we can walk away from that and say, "Too bad. You have to endure". This Bill very carefully circumscribes the circumstances under which assistance is to be offered. I think it is a Bill of honesty and bravery, and I am willing to support it.

MS TUCKER (3.28): Mr Speaker, I am prepared to support this Bill with the amendments proposed by me and Ms Horodny. This has obviously been an extremely difficult decision to make, because it requires that you confront fundamental issues about values and ethics of our society. What was also complicated and difficult was that both sides of this discussion can always produce a list of impressive people to argue their point and both use similar studies but with different interpretations of the results or criticisms of the methodology. The Netherlands situation is certainly used by both sides. However, during my discussions with many people representing the differing views on this complex issue it was clear that the opponents and proponents are both concerned about the welfare of patients and both sides view palliative care as preferable to early death. Both sides also have strong arguments.

The issue of the quality and accessibility of palliative care which our health system provides is very important in this discussion. It is linked to the issues within this Bill by the fact that each year the Minister has to table a report on the state of such services. People may well argue that this is not going to guarantee any improvement or maintenance of such services, especially in the current economic climate, but it does do one thing. Stating the level of services each year will make it more difficult for governments to ignore it and will be a constant reminder that euthanasia and accessible high-quality palliative care must be linked. I am not prepared to accept the argument that voluntary euthanasia will necessarily cause a decline in palliative care. The reason I do not is fundamental to the decision I have made on this issue; that is, I believe that we as a society are able to make reasonable ethical or moral decisions.

Central to the discussion around this issue for some groups is the slippery slope argument; that is, if for compassionate reasons we legalise assisting the voluntary ending of life in the terminal stages of a terminal illness, we shall end up taking the life of people without their consent, on the basis of quality-of-life decisions which are totally out of control. Mr Humphries was concerned also that state of mind would be the determining factor and not state of body. This legislation clearly defines state of body. It is the terminal phase of a terminal illness. I do not accept the premise that as a community we cannot or will not make moral distinctions. I cannot accept that to legalise the right of a patient in the terminal stage of a terminal illness to voluntarily end their life and their suffering if palliative care is no longer effective will lead to the terrible consequences foreshadowed by the opponents. I see great suffering in the current situation. I also see a situation where those with money and influence are able to exercise choice already. I believe that we do have the ability to make these moral distinctions.

Even if I were not of this view, there is an argument to still support this Bill, because, although you may be fearful of abuse of power by doctors or concerned about the lack of power of patients, we have already crossed the ethical or moral line in practice. There are end-of-life decisions, active and passive, going on in our hospitals now.

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