Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (22:30:08) — This is a historic bill, one that has an opportunity to change our state forever. Fundamental to our working democracy is choice — choice about who we love, choice about the type of person we are and the life we want to live. So why then, at our time of greatest need, in our toughest hour are we denied our right to choose?

Picture this: you have lived with your terminal illness. You may have fought hard and done all the right things, but now you have been told that it is a matter of weeks or maybe months rather than years before you die. You are spending more time in excruciating pain than not and despite the very best medical care, you are trapped in a situation to which there is no gentle way forward. The only way through now is a tough, brutal road that will see you diminished, that will see you see, say and feel things no-one ever should.

Beside you may be your loving family or your dearest friends. They may be stoic in the face of shared adversity, but their hearts will be breaking — for you, for themselves, for all you have shared and for how it now must end.

You have lived a wonderful life, a life full of joy, love, laughter, friends and maybe the odd adventure or twelve along the way, but now that same life is coming to an end. There is nothing you can do to stop this; there is nothing the very best science and medical care in the world can do for you now. Your independence, something you have guarded so closely, has been all but taken away. You have no choice but to lie and wait, listening to the beeping of the machines that are now the soundtrack to your days, to the dedicated nurses and doctors that are doing their rounds. You lie and wait.

All the while the pain continues to storm through your body and all too often change who you are, alter you in ways you never gave it permission to. The greatest of care, the warmest of love cannot change the situation that you are in and you wish there was another way — a kinder way. So do the hundreds of Victorians that take their lives each and every year in violent and devastating ways. So do the people who die slowly, begging their family to help them. So do the families who have to watch them suffer when they know their loved one does not want to go on. This is something that I have seen and lived. Those pleading words were said, and they will not leave me, nor should they — never, ever.

There is a better way and that way is before us; that way is set out in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017, a bill that contains numerous safeguards and provisions that prevent many of the points raised by those speaking against the bill from occurring in the first place. This bill came about through the very important work of the Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee inquiry into end-of-life choices, which heard from more than 1000 Victorians both in person and through its submission process, while the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying heard from more than 300 stakeholders throughout their consultations. The legislation before the Parliament this evening delivers on the safe and compassionate framework designed by the ministerial advisory panel. I commend the panel for their work and their service, not just to the Parliament but to the state of Victoria.

The bill delivers on 68 safeguards recommended by the ministerial advisory panel to protect individuals and the community. We know that for a person to be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying they must meet the eligibility criteria. That is, a person must be aged 18 years or more and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident and ordinarily resident in Victoria. They must have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying and be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is incurable, is advanced, is progressive and will cause death, is expected to cause death within weeks or months, not exceeding 12 months, and is causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable. These are the facts — not ifs, not buts and not maybes. Should the bill pass, that will be law.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has contacted me to discuss this bill. I appreciate your personal experiences, your beliefs and your energy in sharing them with me. The respect, decency and thoughtfulness that has been shown through this debate is a credit to our community and to our society. I am of the firm belief that because of the Minister for Health’s resolute and professional conduct around this bill we have a robust piece of legislation that has delivered an informed, thoughtful and considered debate.

Further, I want to put on the record to the cabinet and in particular to the Premier, who is in the house, that I commend your leadership, strength and passion that has been shown through this process in bringing this debate on and doing exactly what you said you would do — putting people first. I also thank the many passionate campaigners who, over many years, have worked to bring this debate before the Parliament.

This Parliament, the Parliament of Victoria, has a proud history of giving people choice in their lives, including the decriminalisation of abortion, the introduction of safe access zones, adoption equality, the charter of human rights, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 — and the list goes on.

I joined the Labor Party when I was 19 and did so with the firm belief that politics was the best way to make effective change — the best way to create a fairer, more just and stronger society. After three years in government I have never believed that more than I do now, because what could be more important than enabling a person to choose the time and place to end their own journey, to allow them to pass with love rather than alone and to allow them to pass with kindness and dignity? Who am I to deny them this right? Who am I to deny them their final choice? Should that be me at the end of my life I will want a choice, and as such anything less than a supporting vote would be hypocritical. I support the bill and commend it to the house.