Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 2292 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
There are end-of-life decisions occurring in the rest of our society as well, when people or their loved ones take, or attempt to take, the thing into their own hands, with sometimes tragic consequences, including the possibility of imprisonment for those who choose to act out of compassion in this way. The moral reason for the distinction between active and passive euthanasia is not clear to me. Both have as their intention relief of suffering and both have as their consequence death. Yet some opponents of the legislation tell me that passive euthanasia is good medical practice but active euthanasia is killing. Euthanasia in this Bill is informed and voluntary, and the regulations and our amendments ensure greater accountability. We have more, not less, chance of preventing abuse than if we pretend that it is not happening at all and refuse to look at it.
While no legislation can entirely prevent abuse, my amendments and those proposed by Ms Horodny seek more accountability under this Bill. They require that much more detailed information be given to the coroner, including all palliative care options offered to the patient. This will be an incentive for medical practitioners to seek advice from palliative care experts, if necessary. The amendments will also make it a requirement for the medical practitioner to whom the request to terminate life is made to be familiar with the medical history of the person making the request, especially the history of illness which has led to the terminal phase. Continuity of care is an essential element in good health care.
The purpose of the amendment regarding medical records is twofold. Accountability is increased by the requirement that a separate written record be kept by the medical practitioner of details regarding the request for euthanasia and that this record must go to the coroner. It is to be signed by the patient as well as the medical practitioner. The coroner will also be required to give more detailed information to the Attorney-General on the operation of the Act. I am also proposing an amendment which will require that, two years from enactment, the Assembly review the impact of the legislation. This is in recognition of the fact that this kind of legislation needs ongoing scrutiny. I hope that this amendment will reassure people who fear that we are opening a floodgate.
I believe that this Bill will allow scrutiny and evaluation greater than now exists in a practice which is already occurring. I would also like to see some evaluation of passive euthanasia as it is occurring now. Proponents and opponents both argue the regard for basic human rights. The question is whether the individual right to choose impacts negatively on the rights of the rest of the community. In my view, within this Bill there is a strong element of accountability and regulation about how this choice is made, and I therefore support the right of the patient in this situation to make their own choice.
Mr Speaker, I have made this decision according to my conscience after reading the literature and listening to people from all sides of the debate. I respect the views of all those who have participated. However, I now feel that it is appropriate to allow people who are suffering in the terminal phase of a terminal illness to choose to end their lives if they cannot be comforted by palliative care. I acknowledge that if this Bill were successful it would require careful ongoing scrutiny.