Page 4793 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 1 November 2017

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MR PETTERSSON (Yerrabi) (11.58): Death is an uncomfortable topic. Often we would rather not talk about it all. However, across the country, across Canberra, many people die in deep distress, with debilitating pain and without dignity. Assisted suicide or euthanasia would give these Canberrans the ability to make their own choice about their death.

With legislation to legalise assisted dying passing in the Victorian lower house, it is clear that across Australia local communities are ready for a sensible discussion on the issue. However, here in the ACT our ability to legislate on this issue has been removed by the commonwealth, and this must change.

Watching a loved one die is one of the hardest things a person can do. I know that many members in this place have gone through this traumatic experience with their own loved ones. I myself have seen my loved ones suffer unnecessarily. Across our community, in homes, care facilities and hospitals, families are watching someone they love die a long, traumatic death. Whilst death is never any easy process, for some people this is especially extended and difficult.

With terminal illness, there are circumstances where pain relief is not adequate. They must live with constant pain. In some circumstances, palliative care cannot adequately support a dying person. This can be the case for patients dying of cancer or even dementia. In circumstances where death is imminent, the final weeks can cause extreme discomfort and distress.

For many people the loss of dignity is especially confronting. Patients who cannot feed, clothe or bathe themselves and must rely on others for every need often experience this distress. This often causes added stress and embarrassment for the patient and their family. The lack of mobility can be particularly challenging for patients.

The compassionate response to suffering is to do our best to alleviate it. Assisted dying allows those people who choose it the dignity of making their own choices. In our society we value self-determination. In our society we help those suffering.

We have examples from afar to look to as well: other jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying, including the US states of Oregon and Washington, and even Canada. The success of these jurisdictions’ programs indicates that euthanasia legislation can be practically implemented. When legalised it remains a choice undertaken only by the terminally ill who are suffering, despite the claims of some who are opposed.

In Oregon, only 0.39 per cent of deaths in 2015 were as a result of assisted suicide. In the same year in Washington only 0.32 per cent of deaths were from euthanasia. In Oregon since the legalisation of euthanasia the use of palliative care has actually increased. Far from drastically changing the palliative care system, assisted dying is an option for the few members of our community whose needs cannot be met by the palliative care system.

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