I have always been nervous about voluntary assisted dying legislation.
On my part this has not been motivated by any religious commitment or belief.
It has been much more about balancing what I believe is every person’s right to die with as little pain as possible and with reasonable quality of life against the potential risks associated with the undue influence of others.
You don’t easily forget moments like one which I experienced as a young lawyer, when a family member phoned me early one morning not so much to advise that an elderly client had passed away during the night but to ascertain what was in their will.
I immediately assumed that the enquiry might relate to whether my client was to be buried or cremated as that was not an unusual query albeit usually with a few more hours having passed – but I was wrong. It was not the only occasion I have since been made aware of potential beneficiaries being somewhat over-anxious about such matters.
The poignant ads recently screened on our televisions highlighting the potential for elder abuse could have re-affirmed my concerns, for those messages are real and important.
But there has been something more powerful for me in providing personal assurance that a balance can be found. The Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Actwas passed in 2017. The third report into its implementation and operation was handed down this week.
Here has been no obscene rush to access its provisions. Yet it has provided the opportunity for Victorians at the end of their lives and in intolerable pain to choose to make their own decisions.
In the year from July 1, 2019, 231 permits were issued and eventually 124 of the recipients chose to access the prescribed medications. The applicants ranged in age from 32 to 100, just over three-quarters with a cancer diagnosis.
All Australian jurisdictions rightly decriminalised suicide. That we ever as a society believed that choosing to end one’s life should be a crime is perplexing for modern thinkers.
Both Western Australia and Victoria have moved to the point where as societies they are comfortable with allowing those of sound mind who are terminally ill and suffering severe pain to seek minimalist assistance from qualified others to end their own lives.
If we are to follow suit then, as was the case in both of these states, the debate must be about the appropriateness of the checks and balances and the sanctity of the process to be followed.
As experienced by my own journey of thought, this should be a matter of conscience for both those who will determine the outcome of the legislation soon to begin debate in the Tasmanian Legislative Council and for every Tasmanian.
It should be about each of our own well-considered beliefs not those foisted upon us by others.
It should be about each of our own well-considered beliefs …
When I was standing for state parliament I was lobbied from myriad quarters on each occasion whether I would support voluntary assisted dying legislation should I be elected and it were to come before parliament.
Way too much of the attempted lobbying from both sides of the matter was sensationalist or obsessively emotional. Only a small proportion was thoughtful and considered.
I shut out the former and read only the latter. In balancing time for all of the issues I had to consider across the board I probably spent too much time on this one issue.
In the end I advised the respectful lobbyists that I was not yet convinced. There were folk who were not happy with me.
But based on the Victorian experience, my personal position has moved sufficiently to be in support of such legislation with the right checks and balances. I think we are close to that now.
If passed the legislation would not of course only be available to the elderly – there are Tasmanians at various stages of their life who might meet the requirements. This again is right – with well-considered checks and balances.
Palliative care must without question remain the primary response to terminal illness. As, where possible, must be the imperative that as a society we provide the opportunity for those facing end-of-life to remain in their home and familiar environments.
On those two matters I am comfortable in doing my best to convince others that these positions are the right ones.
But on the question of whether each of us is at ease with supporting voluntary assisted dying legislation it should be our own call, developed according to well-informed and objective argument rather than dogma or hysteria.
We must hope that the process over the next month or so will be considered and respectful to enable this to be the case.
- Brian Roe, sports administrator