Debate on laws to facilitate voluntary assisted dying in Tasmania started for the first time in the Legislative Council on Tuesday.
The debate, which stretched late in the night, will resume each Tuesday until the legislation goes to a final vote.
Mersey independent MLC Mike Gaffney, who brought the legislation to the chamber, said community understanding on the merits of voluntary assisted dying had matured in recent years.
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“For far too long, terminally ill Tasmanians have been unable to legally end their suffering,” he said.
“It is a somewhat disconcerting and uncomfortable fact that a number of families have been devastated by the violent or lonely death of a loved one who made it clear that because they were unable to access a legal, safeguarded, supported and painless process.”
Mr Gaffney said he believed the legislation was well-overdue and capable of being enacted with the strictest oversights to ensure the process was only available to those who met the required standards.
“It has been successfully passed in other jurisdictions and I see no reason for the continued denial of choice and dignity to those enduring untold suffering, pain and ultimately death,” he said.
Mr Gaffney made an emotional plea to fellow Legislative Council members to make the right decision when the final vote came.
“During this debate, I hope we can all agree to put our communities wants and needs to the forefront of our thinking,” he said.
Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest said the bill was the most challenging piece of public policy she had considered in her 15 years in the upper house.
She said public discourse over voluntary assisted dying had been driven by fear which was, at times, rational.
Ms Forrest said there were very few instances where pain and suffering cannot be mitigated.
She said she was concerned consultation with medical bodies had not been broad enough.
Ms Forrest said voluntary assisted dying was not the only way for a person to achieve a dignified death.
“That is so far from the truth, it’s ridiculous,” she said.
Ms Forrest foreshadowed she would move amendments to the bill as did Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell.
Ms Lovell said everyone had the right to live a dignified life.
“Being afforded the dignity of making a choice about how an inevitable end to life occurs,” she said.
Ms Lovell said it was incorrect to draw a link between suicide and voluntary assisted dying.
“Suicide is always a tragic outcome, and in many cases, is the result of people feeling helpless and hopeless,” she said.
Montgomery Liberal MLC Leonie Hiscutt said palliative care was advancing by the day and cures to ailments were always just around the corner.
She said on advice from Mr Gaffney, there did not seem to be conflict with voluntary assisted dying and life insurance as it was not treated as suicide.
Rosevears Liberal MLC Jo Palmer said those in the palliative care field were split on the issue of voluntary assisted dying.
She said some medical professionals had told her they were already speeding up the dying process – just in an inhumane way.
However, Ms Palmer said she did not support the legislation as it was written.
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