Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill (Euthanasia)

17 Mar 2021

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 2 December 2020.)

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (12:05): I rise to speak on this very important and very sensitive matter. As we all know, this is a conscience vote on something that each of us will dig deeply into our own hearts and into our own communities to address. Voluntary assisted dying or voluntary euthanasia—there are different reasons that different people use different terms, and I am not too fussed about that to be perfectly honest, but I would like to put a few things on the record regarding this very important topic.

First, in the time I have been in this place I have had to deal with this before, as most members in the chamber have, and, regardless of the content of members' contributions in the second reading, including my own, and regardless of my personal views and my electorate's view, I have always voted affirmatively for the second reading because I deeply believe that it is not actually until we get into the committee stage of a bill of this nature that we really get right into the detail—and it is the detail that is incredibly important on this topic. Some people, of course, will have a view in favour or in opposition broadly on the principal, but I have to say that I think the details are extremely important.

If I go to this topic broadly, understanding that this is a different bill, members will know that last time this topic was lost by one vote. There was actually a tie of the house; it was not between any political affiliations—there were Liberal and Labor members on both sides of the chamber—but it was actually tied at 23 all, and the former Speaker had the deciding vote.

I am on the record as having voted, at the third reading, against the bill last time around. I am also on the record for my reasons why, and last time those reasons overwhelmingly, although not exclusively, were based on the fact that amongst the necessary steps a person would have to take to become eligible to access voluntary euthanasia was the fact that two doctors would have to agree that a person suffered from a terminal illness, was most likely to die within six months and was suffering unacceptable levels of pain.

From my perspective, I have no concern with that necessarily in and of itself—and that is not a comment on the whole topic, just a comment on that one condition. However, what I was uncomfortable with was that it could be any two doctors and that any doctor or doctors could give that type of assessment an unlimited number of times for an unlimited number of patients. I am not suggesting for a second that any doctor would provide an inappropriate assessment, or one that that doctor did not feel was 100 per cent accurate, but different doctors would have different opinions, so I will come to the first part of that.

With respect to any two doctors, I have a view that if it was appropriate to go down a path like that then it really should not be just any two doctors, and I asked this in committee last time. Does this mean that that patient could go to two doctors and the two doctors say, 'No, I don't think that you, as the patient, meet the threshold,' and then the patient could go to another doctor and get told no, and another doctor and get told no, on and on until that patient found two doctors who both said yes and then that would satisfy this condition? I am not comfortable with that.

The other factor is the number of times that any doctor could do this. Again, I have great respect for doctors, but there will be some doctors who might quite fairly determine that the answer was, yes, that the person did satisfy those conditions of terminal illness, unbearable pain and expected to die within six months, but there would also be other doctors who might see it differently.

The fact that a patient would have the opportunity essentially to seek out a doctor who had that opinion I was certainly not comfortable with. I am not suggesting that doctors are going to sell their soul and just say whatever the patient wants them to say, but of course so many of these cases, you would expect, would be marginal. Who is to know that someone is likely to die in six months? Well, is that five months or is that seven months? That would actually make a difference to the way in which the bill was written.

Another criterion is unacceptable levels of pain. Well, certainly the patient would know that. The person in the situation would know that for sure but harder for a doctor. One doctor might make one decision and another doctor may make a different decision. I do not like the idea that a patient could go through any number of doctors who think it was inappropriate to let them access voluntary euthanasia and keep going until they find two who think it is appropriate. I do not think it is appropriate that doctors could become known for having a view that leans them towards accepting that the patient fits into that category. Doctors could be essentially requested to make that type of decision over and over again.

I would be more comfortable—if I was comfortable at all, let me say very clearly—if there was a situation where it was actually the treating specialist who needed to be one of those doctors, and exactly the same doctor the patient had gone to initially in the hope that that doctor could cure them from whatever the ailment was, and we think very often about cancer, but of course it is not only cancer. But if the patient went to a doctor in the hope that that doctor could cure them, and then if it needed to be the same doctor who actually had to say, if it was the case, that the patient in that specialist doctor's opinion did satisfy those conditions, hypothetically it would be the patient's GP, the person you would like to think the patient had had a long and positive history with.

In that example, that is, the patient's GP and the patient's treating specialist, if those two doctors were to both assess the patient as meeting those criteria of insufferable pain and expected to die within six months from a terminal illness, then to me that would be vastly different from being able to just find any two doctors anywhere in the state who would say that the patient met those criteria. Hypothetically those doctors could be doing it over and over again for an unlimited number of people and so potentially let their particular style of assessment be used in that way.

I say quite openly, too, that if there were doctors whose particular style of assessment lent them away from recognising that the patient met those conditions, well, I would not want the patient forced to one of those doctors either. So it does make sense to me that it is the GP and the treating specialist—the same people this patient has dealt with and sought help from to be cured and to be healthy, the same the same people who know this patient better than anybody else—who should be the ones to say, if it is the case, 'This patient does now meet the criteria.'

I just wanted to put those views on the record. I understand that I am talking about the previous bill, not the current bill; I fully recognise that. I do not mean any disrespect to the current mover of the current bill, but I think it is important that we all put our views on the record on these things. These are difficult decisions and not the ones that members of parliament should shy away from. With that contribution, I put my perspective very firmly on the record.

I will vote to support the second reading so that we can get to the committee stage, as I have always done on all these difficult conscience issues, whether it be abortion, prostitution or euthanasia, and I will do the same again. I will listen incredibly closely. I will most likely participate in the committee stage of the bill, and I will make my decision on the third reading speech based on the final version of the bill presented to us at that time.