Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill
Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (21:05): I rise to make a contribution here this evening on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill. I am a member in my third term in this place. This is the third time I have been part of this debate.
Mr Szakacs: Keep going; don’t leave us!
Mr TRELOAR: You are very kind. I have made my decision, member for Cheltenham. It will most likely be the last opportunity I have to debate this. I am one who has voted against the bills on the previous two occasions I have been involved in. I do not remember particularly much about the 2011 vote, but those of us who are here for the last vote in 2016 all remember how we were trying to make good legislation at 3am in the morning. I felt, in my own mind, that was a task too difficult. Consequently, I voted against it, and the bill went down by one vote.
It is a conscience vote. It has been deemed a conscience vote by both the major parties here in this parliament. We have an extraordinary responsibility here. We have an extraordinary responsibility each and every day in this place, but particularly with issues such as this. I was asked by a country media outlet about a conscience vote and how we determine a position in a conscience vote as individuals.
It was a very direct question. He asked me: do you consider the will of the constituency, your constituents, or do you make a decision yourself on a conscience vote? There is no real answer to that. Of course we consider the opinions, the letters, the correspondence we receive from our constituents, and we have all received many on this particular issue, both for and against and some in between. But, ultimately, on an issue such as this, I think we have to look within ourselves to make a decision.
I am somebody who believes in the sanctity of life, of course; we all do. We have spoken about it here. There is nothing more precious than human life. I am not able to regale the parliament with stories of loved ones close to me and their dying days. I have lost elderly grandparents whose time had come. Probably the nearest thing I have was my father-in-law, who has passed and who died of bowel cancer. I believe in my own mind that he was not one who would have taken up an option to end his own life had he had that choice, and I feel sure of that. Both my parents are still alive. I have not lost anyone else in a situation whose experience I might be able to draw on to help me with this decision.
However, it is one particular story that has convinced me that I should support this bill. It is the story of a family resident on Eyre Peninsula, in the heart of Eyre Peninsula, in the heart of the seat of Flinders. I am not going to use names, even though the names are well known now because the family has gone public with their story. Each of us as MPs would have received an email from the mother of a young man who died of a terminal disease.
I have spoken with the mother. I know that we are not supposed to refer to people in the gallery, but that person is here tonight and I know she has been following this debate with great interest. I have asked her permission to read some—not all—of the email she sent to all of us to indicate to the parliament, her story, their story. I feel that story has convinced me to support the bill. She wrote:
Terminally ill people want a choice in how they die. The choice to not die was taken away from them the moment they were given a death sentence when diagnosed with terminal cancer or a degenerative disease…
My son’s death certificate says he suicided. I see it as anything but suicide. [My son] was dying. His oncologist as well as the palliative care doctor both agreed in their statements to police that [my son] was close to death—two weeks, no more than a month. The cancer had spread throughout so much of his body that in his last days, I could no longer even rub a sore spot on his back such was the pain. In fact, the only comforting thing I could do (for [my son] and myself) was run my fingers through his hair for hours on end, being careful not to touch his scalp as the cancer eating his skull also caused him terrible pain.
One argument that has been used as an excuse to vote against this bill is that of coercion—families will use this law to convince their family member that the only way out is death. The sooner the better. This is something that I cannot imagine ever happening. Having spoken to so many people in my advocacy of voluntary assisted dying, the consensus is the opposite. Families do not want their loved one to die. They want to hold on to them. They also do not want to see them suffer. Can you imagine if I had demanded [my son] not die from ingesting Nembutal? He would have died anyway but hating me for my lack of compassion for him! How selfish of me to want [my son] to suffer because I didn’t want him to go when he chose or on the flipside, making him hurry up his decision to die because I had a vested interest or because he was being a burden! Ludicrous!
For [my son] to have control over how and when he died was deeply important to him. He was suffering terribly yet rarely complained but he was tired of fighting every day to stay alive—mostly for our sakes; to be there for the last Christmas with all of us present, to give his sister his last ever gift for her thirteenth birthday, to see in the New Year with us, his family.
When he developed cauda equina syndrome due to tumours growing around the base of his spinal cord [my son] was devastated that he could not get out of bed without help. He also lost bladder and bowel control. He was nineteen and was heartbroken and embarrassed that he needed help with the most basic human requirements.
The passing of this bill will not help [my son] but I know that by having voluntary assisted dying as an option, whether they choose to utilise it or not, South Australian people with a terminal illness and suffering terrible pain will feel a calmness knowing that when the time is right, they can choose to have a peaceful death, surrounded safely and lovingly by their loved ones.
I do not normally read such things into the Hansard, but I do appreciate receiving that email. I appreciate sitting down with this lady for an hour in her own kitchen, and hearing the story in much more detail than that. I have an extraordinary amount of respect for this lady and the family.
She is writing a book about this. She did tell me how many words she is up to: she has written tens of thousands of words and is not finished yet. I asked her how the book was going to end, and she said that it is going to end with this, with this debate and this vote. It is just extraordinary.
I am comfortable with the safeguards that are included in this bill. I know full well, as we all do, that there will be another evening in front of us in two weeks’ time on a Wednesday. I will have the duty of chairing that committee. There will be a number of amendments, there will be significant debate, and ultimately we will make a decision that we look within ourselves to make.
I think this debate this time around has been particularly respectful and particularly calm. It has been much calmer than my memory of the previous debates, and I congratulate all members of parliament on the way in which they have conducted themselves here. The final thing I would like to say is that the test above all else is when we ask ourselves, ‘Would we as individuals want the choice if we were ever in that situation?’ My answer to myself is yes.