Page 2952 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 14 August 2013
Of course one cannot talk about end-of-life issues and choices without acknowledging the question of voluntary euthanasia, which is a choice that many in our community, if asked, will talk about as their preference if they are faced with prolonged, unbearable suffering with no prospect of recovery. In June 2013, I undertook a study tour in order to research aspects of the law and practice in relation to the end-of-life issues in three countries in Europe, that is, Switzerland, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium, all of which have either legislated for voluntary euthanasia or amended the penal code to allow assisted suicide.
In examining the different forms of legislation and codes, I met with nearly 40 experts, including members of the medical professions, lawyers, ethicists, parliamentarians, policy makers and other stakeholders. I also undertook several site visits and examined the regulation and administration of the different models where they occur. I was fortunate to also meet with palliative care practitioners and patients, those involved in developing and improving palliative care policy and advising governments in this area.
I learnt about the long history of discussion and debate that had taken place in relation to end-of-life issues and the emerging debates in relation to calls to amend the legislation, particularly in Belgium, and also calls to look at the role and validity of end-of-life directives or advanced care directives and the role of medical practitioners in honouring those. This is also under great debate in Belgium. To do justice to this experience in the course of this debate or to try to pay full respect to those who shared their knowledge and expertise with me is not possible.
There is still a good deal of research on this subject to be carried out in order to inform the community conversation and whilst many would like to see voluntary euthanasia legislated for in Australia, this is not yet the case. As members know, after legislation on the rights of the terminally ill allowing euthanasia in the Northern Territory was enacted in 1995, the commonwealth government disallowed the legislation. The federal parliament then passed the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, also known as the Andrews bill, which expressly prevents the territories passing legislation allowing euthanasia. Under this legislation and under the self-government act, the ACT is expressly forbidden to enact such legislation.
After my study tour, I think I would say that I am like Woody Allen, whose quote is hanging behind the door of Dr Benoit Beuselinck, a research oncologist in a major hospital in Belgium:
I have questions to all your answers.
I will conclude, though, by sharing the statement, a plea by Professor Marc Englert, a retired cardiac specialist, as I left him on the last day of my study: “You must have courage.”
MR HANSON (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (10.11): I thank Ms Porter for bringing this motion to the Assembly today. These are important if not sometimes uncomfortable issues to discuss. Before I talk about the substance of some of the