MPs divided over assisted dying

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A CONSCIENCE vote on the Voluntary Assisting Dying Bill passed by the Victorian Parliament’s lower house last week saw Labor comrades in marginal “sandbelt” seats along the Frankston line split on the contentious bill.

Carrum MP Sonya Kilkenny and Frankston MP Paul Edbrooke voted to back the bill, introduced by Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy, while Mordialloc MP Tim Richardson voted against the move to legalise voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill people.

The legislation by the Andrews Labor government took four days to debate before it was passed 47 to 37.

The upper house is expected to vote on the bill in the next few weeks.

Mr Edbrooke described his decades of dealing with death as a firefighter to explain his support of the bill.

“Of course we always did everything within our power to save the lives of trauma patients, including terminally ill people who had made unsuccessful and botched suicide attempts, but regardless of the nature of the injury, the fact is that many times there was little we could do but comfort the dying person until they passed, and console their family,” Mr Edbrooke said.

“Perhaps what remained with me more than those trauma scenes were the many times when I held the hands of dying people and spoke softly to the patients, who were often in horrible pain, to ease them until they passed.”

He said family members always wanted to if their relative had suffered or was in pain.

Mr Edbrooke said the bill was not a “slippery slope” to abuse or one that would be “extended to vulnerable groups in our society”.

“The small percentage of people that this bill appeals to are already dying, their diagnosis is fatal and their prognosis is dire. They are not solely depressed individuals wanting to die. They often have full faculty, are required to make decisions and are no longer holding onto the chance that they might survive or a miracle might occur.

“These are people begging their families to help them die, starving themselves to death over a month, stopping their dialysis or hoarding tablets to take a lethal dose.”

Mr Richardson cited former prime minister Paul Keating’s intervention in the assisted dying debate to voice his opposition to supporting the bill.

“He [Mr Keating] talked about how the expectations of patients and families will change once the bill has been passed. The culture of dying, despite certain and immense resistance, will gradually permeate into our medical, health, social and institutional arrangements,” Mr Edbrooke said.

Mr Richardson acknowledged “the matter of the way we die … is an inherently difficult and deeply personal topic”.

“No-one wants to see anyone suffer unreasonably. No-one should be subjected to agonising pain. No vulnerable person should be at risk of being coerced or taken advantage of,” the Mordialloc MP said.

“If we lose one person who wrongly takes their life, it would be a failure of this bill and live on in the conscience of all members of the 58th Parliament. We need to be able to look every Victorian in the eye and know no person has been wrongly put to death.”

Mr Richardson said palliative care in regional and rural areas and for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds should be a priority and “quality mental health care and intervention” could alleviate some of the suffering of the terminally ill.

Ms Kilkenny told parliament “more than 85 per cent of people in my electorate of Carrum support voluntary assisted dying”.

The assisted dying framework in this bill will be one of the most conservative and safeguarded in the world. It will be available only to Victorians with decision-making capacity who are suffering from a terminal illness and are expected to die within 12 months,” the Carrum MP said.

“Only people who are already dying will be allowed to access voluntary assisted dying. People with a mental illness only or a disability only will be ineligible.

“No-one can make a request on behalf of anyone else, and a health practitioner is prohibited from initiating a discussion with their patient about voluntary assisted dying.

“The bill provides a rigorous multi-stage request and assessment process. Two doctors must, among other things, attest that the person’s request is voluntary, informed and continuing. The person seeking access to voluntary assisted dying must make three separate requests.

“All up, access to assisted dying under this bill will be available in only very limited circumstances — some might say too limited.

“We want to give people who are dying — maybe not tomorrow, but certainly within weeks or months — the capacity to end their intolerable suffering if that is what they want to do.”

Ms Kilkenny said about 50 people in Victoria end their life as a result of a terminal illness.

“If we can prevent those 50 Victorians from taking their lives each year in some of the most distressing and awful of circumstances and spare the families of those Victorians the terrible grief they must feel, not to mention the toll on and cost to our emergency services workers, the Coroners Court and others, then surely we must be compelled to act.

“We have a duty to act. I am so very proud to commend this bill, and I most sincerely hope that it passes this Parliament.”

The bill divided Labor at the top of the party with Premier Daniel Andrews supporting the bill and Deputy Premier James Merlino arguing against legalising assist dying in Victoria.

Bentleigh Labor MP Nick Staikos voted alongside Ms Kilkenny and Mr Edbrooke to support the bill.

On the Mornington Peninsula, Liberal state MPs were also divided on legalising assisted dying.

Mornington MP David Morris backed the bill. Hastings MP Neale Burgess and Nepean MP Martin Dixon voted against its progress to an upper house vote.

with Keith Platt

For crisis support and counselling call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the suicide call back service on 1300 659 467.

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 1 November 2017

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