Speech on Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill

Mr WELLS — I remember some years ago my son came home and said that he had to do a project on euthanasia and he needed my help. I said to him, ‘Okay, let’s start. Where would you like to start? Where would be a good point to begin?’. He said, ‘I think I’ll talk about a 14-year-old boy growing up in Singapore’. If only this debate was that simple. I have thought about the legislation at length and have discussed it with my family and friends and the constituents of Rowville, and I have been impressed by the quality of the feedback — arguments for and against the debate.

I have to say that I have always been opposed to euthanasia, and unfortunately there is nothing in this legislation that has prompted me to change my position on this. Church members in my area have been very active in writing to me and have been very strong in their opposition to this bill. I would have to say with all of the correspondence that I have been receiving in my area from the people in the electorate of Rowville — and as late as late this afternoon I was still receiving correspondence — about 90 per cent has been against the bill. Obviously people will argue that that is because the churches and other religious groups have got together to have a mass campaign to make sure that their local MPs know where they stand. When I speak to my staff they are split. When I speak to my friends they are also split in their views. Even in my own family they are split on whether they support or oppose euthanasia. I think in some cases some people who are supporting euthanasia, the ones that I have spoken to, comment that they want the legislation in place in case they need to use it — so it is not necessarily that they will use it, but if the legislation is there in case they decide towards the end of their life to use it, they will have access to it. I refer to the situation in Oregon. I think it is in the final report of the inquiry into end-of-life choices, appendix 3, where they talk about the Oregon experience. In 2015 prescriptions written were 218, but deaths due to the prescribed medicine were 132. That obviously may be skewed one way or the other because the person may have died prior to needing to take the medicine, but there is quite a significant difference between the prescriptions written, 218, and deaths due to prescribed medicine, 132. I would just like to talk about my own personal experience and the reason why I am opposing this bill but supporting stronger palliative care. It is reflects on my decision and why I want to vote no. Both my parents have passed away, and incredibly sad as it may be, being the eldest son you have the responsibility, whether you like it or not, to deal with the end of life. In my case I have had to deal with that for both my mum and dad. My dad was conscripted for the Korean War but contracted rheumatic fever whilst in training, which damaged his heart. The army doctors gave him a life expectancy of 50 on the condition he did not drink or smoke. With modern medicine he did extend his life, but with the smoking and the drinking it cut his life short at 62. The Austin Hospital did absolutely everything possible for my dad, but when every option ran out, the palliative care nurses and doctors were so respectful and so caring. The communication between those doctors and nurses and me and my family was just so caring, considerate and professional every step of the way right up until the very last minute. In regard to my mum — and I did not think my mum would die until she was about 200; she was so stubborn — she contracted chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in June 2012. Originally we were told that all she needed to do was take one tablet a day and that would keep the CML under control, but by November that year we knew something was very wrong — more blood transfusions more regularly. In December mum was readmitted to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for further treatment, and again in January. For those who knew my mum, she was really tough — a no-nonsense, very right-wing country girl. While watching TV in a hospital room one night she turned to me and said, ‘Kim, it’s time to go’, and I said, ‘Mum, I’ve just got here. Why are you saying it’s time to go?’. ‘Kim, it’s time to go to heaven’, she replied. Let me tell you, when your mother says that to you, the blood in your body just wants to drain out. To make it worse, I wanted to argue the point — I wanted to argue the point and argue the point — but my mum knew. Two days later the family were called to a meeting with my mum’s doctor at Peter Mac where he explained that my mum had requested no more medical intervention and outlined the palliative care procedures that my mother would receive. My two brothers again wanted to argue the point, to say that this was not the end, but the doctors, the nurses and my mother knew way more. The professionalism of the doctors and nurses working around the clock meant my mother was never, ever in pain, and she died with dignity, just the way she wanted it. So I have become a strong believer in the Victorian palliative care system, and I am in absolute awe of the medical teams that deal with people dying on a daily basis. I am in awe of the nurses that have moved into politics. I have listened to the member for South-West Coast in this house and Georgie Crozier, a member for South Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other house, speak of their experiences when have dealt with people who are dying and going into palliative care. It is for this reason that I am going to be voting no, having been through it twice now with my parents. On 20 August this year the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for Health, Mary Wooldridge, announced record funding to boost palliative care. I was so pleased, because it was pretty much in line with the views that I hold. I will quote from the press release: In 2015–16, funding for community palliative care provided support for 16 777 Victorians. This increase in funding announced by the Liberal-Nationals today will help provide palliative care support for up to another 8000 Victorians. Another 8000 Victorians! The press release goes on to say: Research indicates that around 70 per cent of Victorians want to live their final days at home surrounded by family, friends and memories. Research also shows that barely a third of Victorians get to realise this final wish due to inadequate funding for community-based palliative care services. … This commitment will see: A doubling of specialist palliative care medical and nursing services to community palliative care clients, especially in rural and regional Victoria. A 50 per cent funding increase in community palliative care provided in the home and including overnight care, in-home respite and carer support and enhanced linkages to after-hours support such as GPs and pharmacists. I do have some concerns, and when I have spoken to people about these concerns some have said, ‘Look, this will never, ever happen’. Others say, ‘Well, I’m just not quite sure about this’. I have heard other speakers talk about their concerns about the safeguards around this bill. Elder abuse is a significant issue in our community. We talk a lot about family violence — and it is good to see that both sides of the house are such strong supporters of ridding this community of the scourge of family violence — but there is also the issue of elder abuse. You hear story after story of adult children who have attacked parents — mothers and fathers — because they have not handed over money or because the adult child has had drug, alcohol or mental health issues and the parents have decided to turn the tap off and, out of frustration, the adult child has reacted sometimes with criminal acts such as murder. I do not want to see this sort of unfair pressure being put on any elderly parents. I have a friend who had a situation where her brother had a form of prostate cancer. It was not looking, I have to say, particularly good. I think there was real fear because he was only 50 years of age. The good news is that he is now in an American medical research program and there is now a 20 per cent chance that he will get through this awful prostate cancer. But had you asked the family six or nine months ago, they were not hopeful of any resolution or any cure for his prostate cancer. Now, new medical research has given him an opportunity. And yes, it is only 20 per cent, but at least there is some hope at the end of the line. Another issue is one that I know a lot of people are thinking about but not talking about. A lot of people are talking about people dying in pain. I had a discussion also with a constituent last week, together with the member for Ferntree Gully, about the issue of people in pain and the use of morphine to control that pain. I said to him, ‘But wouldn’t you continue in those awful, final cases to be actually increasing the amount of morphine to control the pain?’. He said, ‘That’s a form of euthanasia’. I said, ‘Well, that’s your definition. My definition would be that that’s palliative care. The person is no longer in pain’. He said, ‘But at the end of that treatment, what you have done — because you’ve increased the morphine — has actually led to that person’s death’. My view is that that is palliative care. There is no pain. Yes, there has been the consequence of death, which may have been brought forward by two or three days. I have also some concerns in regard to the actual specific legislation, and I know that the minister will deal with this in committee. Obviously the issue about the definition of storage and safe storage of drugs will be something that will be raised in the committee stage. I have read the legislation, and there must be another part that I have not actually come across that requires that the drugs be stored in a locked box that satisfies prescribed specifications, so I guess we will ask that. The other issue is whether an organisation can be a conscientious objector. I am not sure if that is actually covered. I know that the registered health practitioner individual or singular can object, but not the organisation. That will also come up in the committee stage. I just need some clarification in that area. The other issue is the issue of non-Victorians or the definition of Victorians and it being reviewed by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. That is another area of concern that I just need to be able to get clear and get better clarification on. Part 2 of the act provides that to be eligible for access to voluntary euthanasia a person must be ‘ordinarily a resident in Victoria’. I just want clarification around that, because I do not want a situation where people from other states will want to come here in order to qualify for this process. A friend of mine is working very strongly in favour of the yes campaign. I made a promise to him at the start of this campaign that I would not campaign for the no vote. I have made this a very personal issue. I have not campaigned, and I have not tried to convince other members of Parliament to vote the same way as me. This is a conscience vote, a deeply personal vote, and I have kept my word that I have not campaigned at all because of the conscience of each person in this house. In conclusion, I am not convinced by the arguments that are being put forward to the house in order to change my thinking. As I said, I have been through awful situations with both my parents, but I believe the palliative care in this state must be among the best in the world. With the Liberal-Nationals committing more funding to it, I think that it will go even further to ensuring that those who are coming to the end of their lives will be treated with great dignity and respect through palliative care.