Dignity In Dying Bill

26 Nov 2003 archivespeech
This bill is in relation to euthanasia legislation and legalising it in South Australia. Michelle expresses that it is highly unlikely that she will be able to support this bill.

The CHAIRMAN: I understand there is an agreement to allow the Hon. Ms Lensink to make a contribution as she was not a member of this place when the bill was introduced.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I thank all members for allowing me the indulgence to put my views on the record as this is an issue of some significance; and all members would have their views on it and I appreciate the opportunity to express my viewpoint on this bill. My consideration of this bill has given me some cause for a degree of internal conflict because as a Liberal I am natural attracted to the rights of individuals to choose their own path, so long as they do not harm others. The logic of some farmers I have spoken to about this issue is that, if their dog is sick and suffering, they have the choice to shoot it, but we are not allowed to do the same to ourselves.

The Hon. R.D. Lawson: `Logic' and `farmers' in the same sentence?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I always thought the Hon. Mr Lawson was well behaved, but he is interjecting and distracting me. I would like to express that I have some concerns with the bill as it currently exists. My interpretation of most people's views-the person in the street who is surveyed about his or her opinion on `euthanasia'-is that they are generally supportive. The term `euthanasia', as most people understand it, signifies the choice of someone who is suffering the end stage of a terminal illness to hasten their death through the administration of some means. Such a definition implies several assumptions: firstly, the person is terminally ill; secondly, in the end stage; and, thirdly, able to make a decision for themselves that they wish to end their life. I would like to examine this state's Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act 1995 which, at the time, was a very forward looking act and which addressed a number of issues which are tied up in this debate of what is and what is not euthanasia.

This act entitles people to the right to refuse treatment and it appropriately addresses, according to community standards, issues relating to prolonging life through the use of ventila¬tors or feeding. Section 17 contains the provisions which enable some administration of this under certain conditions, and under the title `The care of people who are dying' it states:

A medical practitioner responsible for the treatment or care of a patient in the terminal phase of a terminal illness, or a person participating in the treatment or care of the patient under the medical practitioner's supervision, incurs no civil or criminal liability by administering medical treatment with the intention of relieving pain or distress-

(a) with the consent of the patient or the patient's representative;

and (b) in good faith and without negligence;

and (c) in accordance with proper professional standards of palliative care even though- and these are the key words- an incidental effect of the treatment is to hasten the death of the patient.

Having worked in hospitals (including the hospice at Daw Park), I have some first-hand experience of people in such situations and understand that, in a practical way, this section enables doctors to administer end stage relief with the protection that they can expect not to be prosecuted for hastening death. I believe that these laws serve South Australia well for people wanting to access some form of hastening the end of their life if they are in the end stage of suffering.

Some of my concerns centre upon what can sometimes be described as `elder abuse'. I am acutely aware that older people can be the subject of coercion, or even bullying, and, unfortunately, most often at the hands of their relatives. Therefore, I have concerns about providing such power to people who may be family, loved ones or guardians of a person in this situation. I have great fears for the potential abuse of a system that might make it easier to administer such abuse. As I looked through the debates, I noted that the Hon. Robert Lawson described it quite well in that he talked about `hoops' and the means by which this bill, if it were to become an act, might carry out in practice.

I also have some strong concerns concerning particular definitions in the bill. For example, the definition of `hopelessly ill', on my reading, is too broad and easy to include various forms of mental illness, particularly depression. Depression is a treatable illness, but without detection it can be truly devastating and can cause people to have completely different points of view than if they were treated for their illness. Therefore, I have strong concerns with that area as well. I am open to considering amendments but, I must say that it is highly unlikely that I will be able to support this bill as it asks me to make too many leaps of faith to consider that this would be a good service to the people of South Australia.