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Table Of ContentsPrevious Fragment
LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Friday, 24 January 1997)
- Committee front matter
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
ACTING CHAIR (Senator McKiernan)
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
ACTING CHAIR (Senator McKIERNAN)
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
ACTING CHAIR (Senator McKiernan)
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
Senator BOB COLLINS
- Committee witnesses
SEAN DE KRESTER
Mr KEN ARMSTRONG
Mr LINDSAY GRAY
Senator BOB COLLINS
Mr PETER SPILLETT
Ms MARY SUTHERLAND
Ms WENDY JACOB
Content WindowLEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 24/01/1997 - Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996
CHAIR —I welcome the people from the Daguragu community. Would you like to introduce yourselves for Hansard.
Ms Morris —I am the president of the council of the Daguragu community, which is 800 kilometres from here, and I am also an Aboriginal senior health worker for my community. Robert Roy is also an Aboriginal health worker.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I am a postgraduate student at Latrobe University and I am doing anthropological research within the community.
CHAIR —And you are working with the community?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —Yes.
—Would you like us to ask questions or would you like to
make a statement about the euthanasia bill?
Ms Morris —Yes, I would like to make a brief statement. We are involved with this euthanasia debate because our people in the communities are really worried. Firstly, they came out and gave us a talk on 14 August 1996.
CHAIR —Was that the government who gave you the talk? Who gave you the talk, Helen?
Ms Morris —Yes, they came out. Our people in the community are really worried about this euthanasia law. They are really worried because it is the new law that has come in in the territory. Our people got really worried because before they came out on 14 August 1996 and after that they did not know anything about euthanasia. That is why they are really worried.
CHAIR —They heard nothing more?
Ms Morris —Heard nothing more after that.
CHAIR —How many people does the council represent?
Ms Morris —There are 12 on the council. Yes, we have got four ladies and eight men.
CHAIR —Are you able to say the total number of people in the community?
Ms Morris —About 600.
CHAIR —When an old person is very sick, what do you do? How do you treat an old person who is very sick?
Mr Inverway —I am from Kalkaringi. I am a tribal elder and I am a councillor. I am going to tell you an old story about the early days and what happened when I was a little boy. I remember coming into the station. From country to old station, we move out in the bush at the head of the Victoria River.
When old people are sick, we treat them with a lot of bush tucker, and keep them quiet. They have got no blanket, nothing. That has been really good. That was in the early days. That happened when I was a little boy and when I was a grown-up too. We kept them all clean. There was no blanket. They had to make a lilly pilly one. There was a fire burning. The Aboriginal people were fanning and keeping the fire alight. That fire will keep them up all the time till the old people have passed away, and then we put them down.
When we come back to Wave Hill Station and all the stations over the Northern Territory--every station--and old people are sick, the Aboriginal people plead, because the white man did not like to operate on them. They were treated in a different way. Take them to hospital in Darwin and they die straight away.
CHAIR —Have things changed in the way old people who are very sick are being treated?
Mr Inverway —No, nothing has changed.
CHAIR —What do you do if you think someone is going to die? Are there any ceremonies?
Mr Inverway —In the olden day when anybody die, we make ceremony with the dead man and a couple of others. After that, they would all meet up and cry. That is all, no more.
One day when we came to Daguragu, while we were on at that place now, the old people had been there: `Good tough, boy!' and `Good Australian!' Of the old people who came there that day, ladies too, none of them went to the clinic. That day, the white man didn't like the Aboriginal people. Old people came there until they passed away. They were digging a hole with crowbar and shovel. They had an old rubbish blanket, and a couple more got buried.
This time, we worry about these old people--ladies and old men--near
death when they are at the hospital. We like to see Grandad being brought
back home. In Daguragu, we have got a house put up there for the old
people, with plenty there. We can keep them there until they pass away.
CHAIR —Are people going to the clinic now?
Ms Morris —Yes; we have got a clinic up at Daguragu. I am in charge of my clinic.
CHAIR —Has euthanasia, which you have heard about, affected people going to the clinic?
Ms Morris —They are really worried. Even when we make appointments for them in town, some of them are cancelling their appointments because they do not get the right information, especially with community consulting with the Aboriginal people. The languages Aboriginal people have got are English and their own language, so in our communities we have got five different languages.
CHAIR —Five different languages?
Ms Morris —Yes.
CHAIR —So there are five first languages and then English is second?
Ms Morris —English is their second one.
CHAIR —When you were visited on 14 August last year, how was it explained to you: in English, or in the five languages?
Ms Morris —They had a couple of people translating into the languages for the people--interpreters.
CHAIR —Right. When you go to the clinic, do you have interpreters there?
Ms Morris —Yes.
CHAIR —And do people understand what is happening to them at the clinic when they go there?
Ms Morris —Yes.
CHAIR —With the community, is it a Christian community or does it work on traditional lines? Is the church at the community or not?
Ms Morris —Yes. Some of us in our communities are Baptist.
CHAIR —Some are Baptist?
Ms Morris —Yes.
CHAIR —And others are not Christian?
Ms Morris —We are Baptist. Our communities are Baptist. It used to be the Uniting Church, but we are in one.
CHAIR —Helen, what do you believe about the euthanasia law? Do you think it is good?
Ms Morris —I think the euthanasia law is really frightening to us. Some of us agree with euthanasia, but with our people in our community--for example, if a patient has an illness such as AIDS or cancer--we don't want them to go into hospital and have that euthanasia. We can have it in our community. If people want to die in my community, it is their choice.
CHAIR —I see. Yes, Mick?
Mr Inverway —That conduct is with the young, new generation of Aboriginals. In the olden days, in the beginning time, no-one belonging to the communities would agree with what happens here. It is a new day, a new generation.
—So things are different with the new generation?
Mr Inverway —Yes.
CHAIR —Helen, what happens when someone dies? Do you smoke their house?
Ms Morris —Yes, we do, we smoke their house. We leave the house and then finally do the ceremony and smoke the house.
CHAIR —If someone went to the hospital and used euthanasia to die, what would people do if someone did that?
Ms Morris —The family members of that person would get really upset. Euthanasia is not our law. We stick to our rules that went in longer generations with us.
Senator HARRADINE —Just following on from that, when you asked about euthanasia, I thought I heard Ms Morris say, `We can have it in our own community.' You meant you can have a death in your own community, not euthanasia.
Ms Morris —Yes.
Senator HARRADINE —I must have misheard.
Ms Morris —If I have a patient with cancer, if he wanted to pass away at home, he could pass away with the love and care of his family in our community.
Senator TAMBLING —You say in your letter, `We believe we must die in our own community naturally and comfortably, according to our law', totally in your own community in that area. Are you talking about the people dying at their family home or in the health centre? Is that important?
Ms Morris —That is important. If the family choose for the patient to die in the clinic, it is up to the patient. If family members agree, we can keep them in the clinic or at home.
Senator TAMBLING —I appreciate what you are saying for your community. But if I choose to die in my home here in Darwin, because I am very, very sick, and I want to die at my home or at the hospital but I am so sick that I want to give myself the needle and go `Bye, bye', do you have any feeling about my decision? Is that my business? How do you feel about that? I respect your decision in your community but how do you feel about my decision?
Ms Morris —I think that is your right, if you want to make up your own mind.
Senator TAMBLING —That is important, Helen, because for me to do that, for me to be able to say, `I'm finished', and that is what I want to do in my place, I need the law. I need the euthanasia law, otherwise it is against the law, it is illegal. But it is a matter of respect on both sides.
Ms Morris —I agree with that.
Senator TAMBLING —If the people in your community do not want it, they just say, `No, we don't do it.' But if the law says, `Okay, Tambling, that is your decision', you do not mind?
Ms Morris —I am not going to answer the question.
Senator TAMBLING —So it is not your business?
Ms Morris —No.
Senator HARRADINE —You are asking Helen whether she minds whether you commit suicide? Is that it?
Senator TAMBLING —That is right, yes.
—But that is a different matter from what we
are talking about. We are talking about the euthanasia bill and the
euthanasia law in the territory. Do you want the Senate committee to
recommend that the Australian parliament overturn, get rid of, the Northern
Territory euthanasia law? I think that is what you are saying here, isn't
CHAIR —Do you understand that question?
Ms Morris —Yes. If our communities do not want the law, we will say no. That is for all Aboriginal people in our remote communities.
Senator HARRADINE —Thanks.
Senator McKIERNAN —You mentioned the meeting in August last year where you received some information about the euthanasia bill. Was that the only meeting where you received information about euthanasia?
Ms Morris —Yes.
Senator McKIERNAN —Were there any other people or bodies that gave you information about what euthanasia would do?
Ms Morris —No.
Senator TAMBLING —Did Tim Baldwin, who is the local member for Victoria River, come out to talk to some of the communities and the community leaders? I understood he did a tour to each of these communities.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Yes.
Ms Morris —When Tim Baldwin came out to my community I was not there; I was in the other meeting in Darwin.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —Could I cut across here?
CHAIR —Yes, certainly.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —As far as I am aware--and, I think, from the way that Kim is indicating--there has not been any contact with Tim Baldwin and the community over this issue in recent times.
Senator TAMBLING —In 1995, when the legislation was going through?
Ms Morris —In 1995.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —No--
Senator TAMBLING —But that was when the legislation was going through.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Yes, I just wanted to make sure. I did not realise you were talking about the year before last.
CHAIR —I think that was the end of last year. What about the year before last?
Senator TAMBLING —Last year is arising out of the Green Ant consultation, isn't it?
Ms Morris —Yes.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —That is right--which is what Helen was referring to.
Senator TAMBLING —But the question we were seeking an answer to, and the question I think Senator McKiernan was seeking an answer to, was whether there had been other discussion with regard to the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill. That is what I am talking about--in 1995, when that was going through. I lost a book I had before with a number of other consultations. I do not know if there were any people from that community involved, but I understood that there were local members that went out and talked about it.
—I did not see him when he came out there.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Just to provide some clarification, Mr Chairman: is it a fact that none of the people that are here giving evidence today spoke to Tim Baldwin at all?
Ms Morris —None of us have spoken to Tim Baldwin.
Senator McKIERNAN —That makes the question about last year's meeting in August very important. Was that the first time your community heard about the euthanasia bill?
Ms Morris —Yes. That is the first time they came out and talked to us. Ever since that meeting they had in the community they have not heard anything after that.
Senator TAMBLING —And that meeting was the one with the people from Lajamanu, Yarralin, Timber Creek and Daguragu? That is the one we are talking about, is it not?
Ms Morris —Yes.
Senator TAMBLING —In your letter you refer to 26 July. Other people have been talking about August, but it is essentially the same set of discussions?
Ms Morris —Yes, the same meeting with our community.
Senator TAMBLING —With the four communities together?
Ms Morris —Yes.
Senator TAMBLING —How many people attended from the other communities; do you know?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —My understanding is that at that meeting I attended in Daguragu, which was held in the recreation hall in Daguragu, there were people that came in from Yarralin by plane and people from Timber Creek but, as far as I am aware, there were not people from Lajamanu.
Senator TAMBLING —But that is in your letter.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —Were there Lajamanu people?
Senator TAMBLING —Your letter states those communities.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I was not aware of them, but there were apparently people there.
Senator TAMBLING —Do you recall the numbers that were there for the meeting?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I would estimate 60 or 70, something like that. There were predominantly people from the Kalkarinji and Daguragu community there.
CHAIR —Any other questions?
Senator BOB COLLINS —The committee was given evidence today--and Senator McKiernan is right when he says that it is an extremely important issue--that the education program itself was only in fact completed a fortnight before the bill commenced its operation, which was the subject of a great deal of media attention here. I recall only too well an interview with the then minister for health, the honourable Fred Finch, on the Fred McHugh program on ABC Radio here, of which I have a transcript, saying that he could not understand why people were making such a fuss about it because his information was that most Aboriginal people would not utilise the legislation and, therefore, it should not really matter if they weren't told about it. I am quite happy to provide the committee with a copy of that if I can retrieve it.
CHAIR —Are there any other things that anyone would like to say?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —Could I just add that my understanding of the Aboriginal people's sophistication about what this bill is and what it entails is negligible: they have a very superficial understanding. The group of people that you have before you have sat down at numerous meetings with Kim Muhlen-Schulte and myself in the last two weeks or so, and we have discussed it at some length. It is only through those discussions that these people--having several people that are qualified in the health field--have come to understand exactly under what circumstances euthanasia could be enacted and by whom, that it required an individual's choice.
What I am saying more broadly is that in the community the actual nuts
and bolts of what the euthanasia bill means is very poorly understood. That
lack of understanding leads to other complications--like, as Helen
mentioned, people not going to specialist appointments because they
perceive that they are ill and then perceive that something might happen to
them and they might die in hospital.
Senator McKIERNAN —Do you have a personal view on the bill?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I do have a personal view. I am choosing not to portray it. If you want to ask me what my personal view is I would give you an answer.
Senator McKIERNAN —Is that important in the context of what you have just said though?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I do not believe it is.
Senator TAMBLING —Is your personal view known in the community?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —No, quite the contrary. From my own family experience of people with chronic illness--not actually cancer--and seeing people in a state where they need large amounts of care, I think it is very expensive in terms of taxpayers' resources. I see situations where people are not having what I would call quality of life.
Senator TAMBLING —I meant, is your view known to the people in the community of Daguragu?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —No.
Senator TAMBLING —It is not something you have personally given. I do not know that you did give a final position.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —My personal position--
Senator TAMBLING —I am not seeking it.
CHAIR —You said that people in the community do not know, and you have kept it to yourself?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —That is correct.
Senator BOB COLLINS —You have no requirement to answer that question.
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —I really do not have a problem. My personal view is that I agree with euthanasia, but I have not discussed my personal views with people in the community.
Senator TAMBLING —Do you mind if I ask you whether members in the community have ever asked you for your personal view?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —No.
Senator TAMBLING —So it has not been their business to know your business, to know your issues or concerns?
Mr Muhlen-Schulte —No, I presume not.
CHAIR —Thank you. Unless there are any further questions, I thank everyone from the Daguragu community for coming here today--Mick, Robert, Helen, Topsy, Kim and Roark. You have travelled a long way. Eight hundred kilometres is a very long way to travel, and we appreciate you coming here this afternoon to assist the committee with its inquiries. We wish you a safe return home.
Before we conclude the evidence, I do not think there is any other evidence or any documents to table, but I do want to thank members of the community and those witnesses today who gave evidence in a rational, cogent and forthright manner. I particularly want to thank the parliament and staff of the Northern Territory parliament who have helped us today--and, of course, Hansard and SAVO.
Committee adjourned at 6.37 p.m.
Pursuant to the resolution of the committee on 24 January 1997, the following proceedings of an open public forum conducted on 23 January 1997 were received as evidence to the inquiry.
The public forum commenced at 7.38 p.m.
Senator TAMBLING —Ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely welcome you all here for what is intended to be a very productive evening for the Northern Territory. As you are well aware, Bob Collins and I have felt a lot of pressure on this issue for the last year or so whilst the matter has been before the Northern Territory parliament. Now that the debate has switched to the federal scene and, more particularly, recently to the Senate, Bob Collins and I will have to represent you faithfully in the federal parliament.
I welcome you all here. In particular, I also acknowledge that there are a number of Northern Territory politicians present. Nick Dondas, our federal colleague in the House of Representatives, is here with us. I have not seen Daryl Manzie yet, but I believe he is coming this evening. Eric Poole from Alice Springs is here, as is Loraine Braham. I was advised that Noel Padgham-Purich was going to attend. John Bailey, the member for Wanguri, is sitting next to Eric. Tim Baldwin has come in as well. So there are a number of territory politicians. Bob will introduce our federal colleagues shortly. We are still expecting another couple of them to turn up.
I will now establish the grounds for this meeting. As you are well aware--and your presence highlights it--community interest is profound. This pile of books that is before us for tomorrow's hearing are the submissions that have come before the Senate committee from the Northern Territory. Over the whole of Australia there are currently about 14,000 submissions for this inquiry, and about 600 have come in from the Northern Territory. Certainly a lot of them have similar interests, are easy to identify and have come from a particular forum--particularly from religious groups, both from the lay and the religious order--and a lot of those were very obvious in the way in which they came forward, and probably eight or nine other sub-groups in the area. There are a lot of interrelated issues that have to be addressed. That is the reason for this meeting.
Given the numbers that are here, I will now set the tone for a few formalities for tonight that I think are important. This is a meeting that is owned by Territorians. It is as a result of your pressures and you all being present and participating that Bob and I felt it had to be called.
It is hard to put a definition on euthanasia. If Bob and I were to try to agree on anything it would probably be that for the last four weeks, until a couple of days ago, I took a bit of a break here in Darwin and did not get on an aeroplane. Suddenly I realised that probably in the 10 years that we have been in the parliament, Bob, that was probably unprecedented for me. I realised that we are probably euthanasing ourselves just getting on those planes three or four times a week. I am sure that out of the 400 people that are here tonight there would probably be another 200 definitions.
As this is a public meeting, it is your comments we are interested in. But one thing I would like to point out is that the comments tonight do not enjoy parliamentary privilege as will those that occur tomorrow morning in the formal hearings, which are part of a parliamentary hearing. This is an open public meeting. I must point out that, therefore, all of your comments must stand up to the laws of libel. Please be aware of that and be respectful of it. Please be courteous and respectful. We know the heat that this particular debate will bring out from your various criticisms.
I ask all speakers, when you first come to the microphone--because we intend to throw it open and, essentially, it is for you tonight to speak--to identify yourselves. We are recording the proceedings. Bob and I will then make sure that that information is presented to the Senate committee. They may choose to take part of it on board as part of their formal hearings. It is important, therefore, that we do know your names and the comments that you might like to make. If you can speak about six inches from the microphones I think you will generally be heard.
I ask the press and TV crews to be respectful of people speaking. It is often a bit disconcerting to have a camera shoved too close. We do appreciate that there is a lot of international and national interest in this particular issue here tonight.
As I said, the proposed agenda is for Territorians to speak. Tonight is a way for you to address our Senate colleagues that are sitting here at the front table, whom Bob will introduce to you in a moment, about the issues, concerns and priorities that are coming up.
About 12 or 13 witnesses will appear tomorrow at the formal hearings. If Bob and I show any bias tonight it will not be to give a preference to those who are giving submissions or making formal presentations to the committee tomorrow. You are welcome to attend tomorrow's hearings at any stage. They are open and will also be in this room.
Can I suggest two themes for tonight. Firstly, we should talk about the principles of euthanasia and the debates from this community's perspective and how it would go. Secondly, we should talk about those issues that affect territory constitutional matters or issues affecting the parliament that I know many of you also feel strongly about.
The final point I would make on a formality is that we should aim to
finish at about 10 o'clock. If we set that as a target you may well
conclude earlier, but, looking at the numbers, I doubt it. We will remind
you when 10 o'clock strikes and we will see how the debate is going at that
particular point and bring it together at that point. Thank you for
attending. It is an honour to be part of this presentation and to work so
closely with Bob Collins on it. Bob, over to you.
Senator BOB COLLINS —I will be very focused. Thanks, Grant. I think it would be useful if I just briefly introduced the visiting senators that are here. The Tasmanian senator has just turned up. That is obviously because they are the furthest away. We have: Senator Brian Harradine from Tasmania; Senator Mal Colston from Queensland; Senator Jeannie Ferris from South Australia; Senator Bill Heffernan from New South Wales; Senator Chris Ellison from Western Australia--and I should just mention that Chris is the chair of this committee, and it will be Chris who presents the report of this committee to the Senate when it is concluded--Senator Jim McKiernan from Western Australia; and Senator Eric Abetz also from Tasmania.
First of all, I welcome everyone who has come here tonight. I think it is worth while repeating quickly--because it is important--just one thing that Grant said. The meeting tonight is a matter of record. That is the purpose of it. It was organised tonight to give people who did not make written submissions and who are not appearing before the committee tomorrow an opportunity to have a say. It will be a matter of record. The Hansard staff are here to record it. But the proceedings tonight are not covered by parliamentary privilege. So if you want to be libellous, make sure you have a good lawyer and a lot of money.
I will just conclude by advising you on what the current arrangements are with the committee. The committee is due, after taking evidence and preparing its report, to report to the Senate on 24 February. There has been a considerable amount of publicity in recent times that the Senate might rush to a vote on this prior to that date. I do not think there would be a dissenting senator at this table that would tell you that that is not going to happen before this committee reports. The reason I make that point is to assure you that what you say here tonight is important, worth while and will be considered by the Senate before it votes on this particular legislation.
The other thing I want to raise--and I have not told my colleague this
yet--is that I will actually remain standing. The reason for that is that
we have now filled up that end of the room. I apologise in advance because
this is going to happen. Grant and I will do our level best to ensure that
there will be some degree of fairness with people who want to speak. I know
there will be many here who will want to and we simply cannot, from this
position, now see everyone in the room. So I will act as a bit of a spotter
to make sure that, if there are people up there who want to speak, they are
not left out. I might turn over the first session to Senator Tambling. I
might just tell you that there is no formal agenda here tonight. We will
simply take speakers from the floor. Obviously, we would like you to say
what you want to say as quickly as you can. Before we continue, I also
welcome Senator Julian McGauran from Victoria.
Senator TAMBLING —Thank you, Bob. Those of you who received a letter from me back in December--and I think I sent out about 900 to people that had expressed interest in this issue--will know that I accompanied with that letter several library papers that addressed both the arguments for and against euthanasia. As this committee is receiving so many submissions from all over Australia, we are certainly going to be faced with a heavy debate. But if we could concentrate, for the first part of the meeting, on your views, Territorians who would like to express to senators personal points of view that you feel we should be addressing, I would remind you that the legislation before the parliament is a bill that was generated in the House of Representatives as a private member's bill by Kevin Andrews. The key tenant of that bill, essentially, is to preclude the ACT, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island legislatures from making legislation of this nature, and there are a lot of other ramifications flowing from that.
So the bill before the parliament is to deny the legislatures of the territories the right to make legislation of this nature. But that in turn does not go away from Mr Andrews' intent which is, as he has put it very generally across Australia, against the principle of euthanasia.
Can I open the discussion and ask those of you that want to, and someone is going to have to be first, to walk forward to one of the microphones.
SUE CARTER —My name is Sue Carter. I am a registered nurse. I am speaking tonight on a couple of points that come from my experience in nursing.
The first point I want to make is that people make the comment that palliative care works and that doctors and nurses sort things out for patients. The problem with that is that no-one consults the patient in the ward about what is about to happen. What happens is that there is a discussion between nurses and doctors generally and a decision is made to `up the morphine', as the comment is. No-one actually goes into the patient and says to them, `Look, Mr Jones, you are really suffering here; we are going to up this morphine. The end result of that is going to be that you will lapse into unconsciousness, we cannot say when, and eventually you will die.' Nobody tells them that. So they are not giving their consent to the sort of activity that occurs at that moment, whereas voluntary euthanasia enables the patient to have control, enables them to talk to their families and to make an exit at a time that suits them. For that reason, I support it.
The other thing that concerns me is that as a nurse I know certain things. One of the things I know is that, if I want to kill myself using tablets, I go down to Woolworths and I buy a nice big box of Panadol. I take them, I go to bed, I do not tell anybody about it for six hours, and then I say, `Hey, everybody, guess what I just did.' Three days later, I will be dead. I will have died of renal failure and liver failure. It will have been very painful and very costly to this society.
I object to the fact that certain people have access to nice drugs that
enable them to be killed quickly and easily. In particular, I refer to
doctors who have a very high success rate in killing themselves. So why
should they have access to the nice drugs, and those of us who know have
access to the yucky drugs, and those of us who do not know anything about
it have to shoot ourselves or gas ourselves in a car? Thank you.
HUGH TILBROOK —I am a private citizen of Darwin. Many thanks to Senator Collins and Senator Tambling for this opportunity to state my view on euthanasia. The politicians who instigated this Senate inquiry are to be congratulated. Thomas Jefferson said, `Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to truth.' He also said, `If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, then it expects what never was and never will be.'
I hope this Senate inquiry will arrive at the truth and that Australia will not be seen as an ignorant country. It is wrong that the issue of euthanasia and the issue of statehood have been placed in the one basket. In my view, the Northern Territory law allowing assisted suicide establishes that the Northern Territory parliament is not mature enough to make decisions that may affect the whole of Australia.
I am opposed to euthanasia in the form of assisted suicide. My reasons are many, but I object mainly because it is inevitable that there will be an expansion of conditions and target groups. Gilbert Meierlander maintains that most arguments supporting assisted suicide rest on the importance of personal autonomy, even a choice of death, and the need to relieve suffering when we can. He says these two criteria taken together are thought to authorise assisted suicide and at the same time to set limits to the practice.
When a person who is suffering greatly states that he or she has a right to choose death, assisted suicide may be authorised. The limits are that the person must be suffering great pain but still be capable of making a rational decision. If suffering great pain is a criterion for the authorisation of assisted suicide, how can we justify allowing only those who are capable of making a rational decision to take part in assisted suicide? Are these the only people who suffer greatly? The answer of course is no.
Logically, then, the class of candidates must be expanded. Meierlander argues that movement from assisted suicide to non-voluntary euthanasia is almost inevitable. History has a lesson for us. In Nazi Germany, euthanasia referred to death by medical means or death introduced by qualified personnel. Euthanasia was carried out to terminate suffering, to alleviate the burden of indignity of life not worth living, for reasons of eugenics, to provide more living space for Germans or to minimise waste resource on useless mouths.
Cliff Baxter in the Catholic Weekly of January 1991 states that the estimate of those killed by euthanasia during 1990 in Holland varies from between 6,000 to 20,000 deaths. He quotes officials as saying that they fear that many patients are indeed being killed without consent.
Peter J. Bernardy states that few people would have dreamt in 1973 that by 1993 the number of abortions in America would reach 1.6 million. He says that very few of these abortions have to do with hard cases of pregnancy as a result of rape, incest or the threat of a mother's life. Most abortions are motivated by lifestyle reasons.
The right to assist a suicide could be expanded to include many conditions and many targeted groups. Dr Kevorkian, in addressing the National Press Club in Washington DC on 27 October 1992, said, `Every disease that shortens life, no matter how much, is terminal'. According to him, terminal cancer patients who have only six months to live comprise 10 percent of the people who need assisted suicide. The larger needy group include quadriplegics, people with MS and sufferers of severe arthritis. Some Australian doctors who despair of curing the sick may be able to add to Dr Kevorkian's list. Who's going to judge the limits of assisted suicide? Dr God?
Dr Carlo Kafari argues that if life is objectively unworthy of being lived it is no longer worthy of being defended. Just as truly, one cannot rule out as a matter of principle that it cannot be put down even when consent cannot be given.In a word, to recognise the right to suicide brings with it logically the right to homicide. Assisted suicide will lead to an expansion of conditions and targeted groups. The assertions of personal autonomy and the need to alleviate suffering are false.
As history shows, euthanasia can be expanded to include murder. In Holland, it is feared that many are being killed without consent. In America, the 1.6 billion abortions from 1973 to 1993 demonstrate that society can and does expand conditions. Dr Kevorkian agrees that expansion of conditions and targeted groups for assisted suicide is essential. Finally, it is logical that, as Monsignor Carlo Kafari states, to recognise the right to suicide brings with it logically the right to homicide.
Thank you, Senators, and fellow Australians here tonight, for listening
without interruption to one of my views on assisted suicide.
ROSLYN WILLS —I am a senior citizen in Darwin and I am 76 years of age. I am in favour of voluntary euthanasia. It seems to me that in all the histrionics one very important word has been forgotten--and that is the word `voluntary'. I listened with admiration to the previous speaker. I think he got lost in the fact that we are able to make decisions for ourselves.
At 76, I probably have another decade to live--no-one knows what is to happen at the end of one's life. I would like the option of voluntary euthanasia so that I could die in peace and harmony with my family and friends around me, rather than simply putting a plastic bag over my head, which would be very confusing and upsetting to my family. That is all I have to say.
PETER HOWE —This is my eleventh year as a doctor and my fourth year in the Northern Territory. I am not here as an opponent of euthanasia, but I am very concerned about the Northern Territory legislation. There are three main issues. Firstly, to consider this in the territory, we should have world-class palliative care and that is certainly not the case. Secondly, if suicide is accepted by society, I do not see any reason why having a dignified suicide, as the other speakers have mentioned, should be withheld. Lastly, I really do not see any real need for the medical profession to be involved.
Other than as a safety net for making sure the person is not in a
situational crisis or not acutely depressed, it is asking doctors to make a
sort of value judgment that this person is having a miserable enough time.
I do not think that is well placed on the medical profession. Certainly,
medical doctors are not trained for this. My training is in
anaesthetics--and that is probably as close as it gets. We are not trained
in lethal doses, and other sections of the community might have better
expertise. It would save a lot of confusion if the doctor was one of the
person's caring support people, like their priest, their family member and
their neighbour. But if you go to the hospital, this issue that is clouding
could be quite easily removed. Thank you.
SHIRLEY McKERROW —On a lighter note, I would just like to mention a joke somebody told me--that life itself is a sexually transmitted terminal disease. There are a couple of points I wanted to make. One is on this issue of palliative care. If the Northern Territory's standard of palliative care is so bad, why is it that two-thirds of those who have already taken advantage of the Northern Territory law have come from interstate? I think that shows a reflection on palliative care in other places.
I have some understanding and experience of palliative care. I looked after a 95-year-old aunt of my husband. She was almost blind and almost deaf. She was very old, had had bronchitis and was brought back to supposed health on three occasions. She wanted to die. Each morning she woke up in tears saying, `I asked Him to take me last night and I'm still here.' She insisted on still trying to walk. Her circulation was dreadful, she had sores on her legs, she had sores on her arms and, when I tried to help her up to her feet, her skin would tear. It was like wet tissue paper. That was old, old age. I do not see how palliative care could have ever helped her with that.
The other point I would like the senators to consider is the possible unintended consequences of this bill being passed. I know that Grant explained that the purpose of the bill is to prevent the territories from making such a law--I do not know what the definition of such a law is--but the whole point of overturning the Territory law establishes the principle that if a second tier of government within the federation enacts a law that is repugnant to the majority of members of federal parliament the members of federal parliament feel it is their moral duty to overturn that law.
Once you have done that, what do you do when a state passes a similar law? Do you see through and are you consistent with your moral duty to try to overturn that law? We have seen what the Franklin Dam decision has done to the concept of state sovereignty. My prognosis is that if you overturn the Territory law a state will pass a similar law--it is inevitable; it will happen sooner or later. Then you will have to send the smart lawyers to find some way, some loophole somewhere--and there are smart lawyers; they do exist, believe me--and they will find something that will assist you to overturn that state's law. You will be dismantling the whole structure of federalism and you will be changing the whole nature of our government in Australia. I hope that you will take that on board when you are making your deliberations.
JOHN McELROY —I would like everyone to give this matter a bit of attention because I believe that this time for humanity is one of the most important that we have ever come to. The point is that the whole of society is based on the foundations of the Ten Commandments--any historian knows that. `Thou shall not kill' is the whole principle of society. Our law and our social ecological system are based on that. What we are doing in euthanasia is saying to kill someone.
Doctors used to take a Hippocratic oath to preserve life. You are asking them to shift conscience; you are asking someone else to do it. If you want to die, that is fine. We have got the highest suicide rate in the world with our young people because of this music that is bombarding our children--suicide music--and our kids are killing themselves. They are doing it, the fact proves it. Monkey see; monkey do.
The whole principle here with euthanasia is that life has no rights, life is not important. We want control. It is all about control. We want control of everything. We want control of our life and now we want control of our death. We want to control the environment--let us look and see what we have done to the world environment with all the multinational controllers. I had better be careful because of libel.
The point is that all doctors who follow the Hippocratic oath--those who are true doctors--have an obligation to be true to their orientation and their commitment and their oath. If someone wants to kill themselves, they are going to be dead. Life after death experiences all over the world--and there are many of them--show that there is something else after. I do not think I want to be a quitter and I do not think I want to leave that message to my five children. Conscience today has changed. I can see the mood of all you people here tonight. I know where you are at: nowhere. And you can sue me for that.
I can see a shift and change in conscience today. Very few people today are really moral and really believe in morality. You have got a life; you can do what you want with it but when you are dead you are going to have to face someone else and you will be facing yourself when you die. If you ask someone else to kill you, to murder you, you are shifting your conscience to them; you are asking them to carry that conscience for the rest of their life. You are asking the nursing community, doctors and all these sorts of people to do these things.
It is about death. It is about the business of death. It is bringing death to the territory. We in the territory have the constitutional right to change the whole laws for the first time ever in the history of the world. Never before have we had this right to kill. It is the breakdown of the whole basis of society. It is a breakdown of the whole ethics of society. It is a breakdown of the whole concept of civilisation.
You are in a very rocky boat here. I might add that, when a lot of the
politicians spoke in the Territory about euthanasia or made the agreement,
I noticed the plane was a little bit shaky up there and some people were
making some important calls to people. I think you are back in that shaky
TERRY SECKER —I am a resident of the Northern Territory. First and foremost, I want to thank you for coming here. If the Northern Territory legislature had looked into it for as long and as thoroughly as you have, I feel quite certain that we would not need to be here tonight. If they had even looked at the evidence that was gathered by the South Australian parliament over months and months and at what the House of Lords gathered, they would not have passed this law in the Northern Territory.
Another speaker has already touched on this: we have degenerated this into a Northern Territory statehood debate. I cannot put it more succinctly than just saying, `Poppycock'. We work in this nation under a constitution. I think under sections 122 and 129 the Northern Territory has whatever rights the federal government wants to give it. We are not a state. We have not got rights in that area. We will not become a state while we have got such laws on the statute books. We show ourselves before the whole world as irresponsible.
This euthanasia law is not about the right to die. I have got the right to die. Everybody here in this room has got the right to die. We will all die. It is about the right to kill. Once the state gives this right to kill to private individuals, you lose every other right a nation that thinks it is democratic has. When you take that right and give it to private individuals, you immediately weaken the whole basis of our democracy.
We have talked about where it could lead and all that sort of thing. My father-in-law died just under 12 months ago. He was 94 and said, `I wish I could die.' In fact, when I was a young fellow I heard people say that on Saturday mornings. By the time we finished visiting my father-in-law--and we visited him quite often--he was so happy and was looking forward to the next visit.
Of course people feel like they want to die. If people are not looked after properly in palliative care and if they do not feel loved, they will feel that way. But at this moment in time we have people feeling so miserable that the only hope they have got is a quick jab. Forget about us having a legislature that can pass laws.
Fifty years ago, the Nuremberg trials--and I am not bringing the Nazis into it--said the state does not necessarily have full rights to make legislation. The defence of these people was that it was legal to do the things in the Holocaust and therefore they were innocent. The Nuremberg trials said `No, you're not. Guilty' and they executed them.
Twenty years ago there are some Aboriginals here who said we are now
people and we now have rights. Before that, they did not have too many. You
take away the right to life and see what sort of mess we are walking into.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Please do not feel the need to take the full five minutes. All donations will be gratefully accepted.
Mr LINDSAY GRAY —Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in this Territory now for 20 years. I would like first of all to show the senators how many people have pride in the Northern Territory. Would you all put their hands up so these visitors can see who has got pride in where we live? If there are not too many down hands, we can show you we have got pride.
The second thing that we did not have--a lot of us--when we first came here, and when I came 20 years ago, was fathers, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, uncles and grandchildren. We were here--a lot of us--on a short vacation or a transfer up for two years and home again, back to wherever we came from. Somebody like me has stayed and I have watched this Territory grow and I am proud of it. I am proud of the way that we have been able to build our legislature and how our people have governed so far to get this Territory where it is. I think we should make that very clear.
My second point is this: I am a diabetic. I have been for 10 years. I live on two needles a day. I could even go for a third if I needed it, but I would like that right to go for the third one if I need it. I am single. I live on my own. What happens if I lose my eyesight through diabetes? What happens if I lose my legs through gangrene because of diabetes? Do I want to become a vegetable in a back paddock? No. I want to have the right that, if I want to, I can do it now--I can fix my dose and go out tomorrow. But I would like to go out gracefully at my choice. Thank you.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Peter, I will give you the call next if you don't mind, this lady has been waiting for some time.
BRENDA ELFERINK —Ladies and gentlemen, I have lived in Darwin and the Northern Territory since 1969. I grew up here. I see this matter as being a matter of personal choice, not a matter of religious choice. We live in a society with a range of different religions and we hopefully live in a cohesive way. This is a matter for me.
I am physically healthy and well, but I would like to think that, if I wasn't and if I was not able to commit suicide on my own because I could no longer use my body but my mind was still working well, I could die in dignity. So what I am saying and what I am suggesting on the point of euthanasia is that this is a personal choice for people; this is not a religious choice.
The fact is also that from all the surveys we have seen around Australia, 75 per cent of Australia's population supports the Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act--I am not quite sure what the right words are. So we are talking about a democratic choice for the senators here to represent your constituents. If 75 per cent of this population is saying that to you, please support them.
When it comes to the issue of state rights, I find it very, very
upsetting indeed that the vote of the people that I elect to represent me
is overturned by a person who lives a long way away. That is really what I
have to say. It is my personal choice. It is my vote that counts. Thank you
Mr PETER SPILLETT —I want to ask a question of the committee. A number of times `killings' and `murder' have been mentioned. Could you clarify this? Aren't we talking about voluntary euthanasia? Isn't it the person individually? I think this is misdirection. Who puts the finger on the button? The doctor?
Senator BOB COLLINS —The answer is yes. Have you got any other questions, Peter?
Mr KEN ARMSTRONG —I am Ken Armstrong, a resident of the Territory. I, of course, support the euthanasia bill and I deeply resent Mr Andrews' decision to introduce his legislation in the House. There is too much emotion in the `anti' camp. Words like `killing', `murder', `opening the floodgates', as one doctor said the other day, are emotive and are not helpful to the debate. The title of the legislation says it all--it is the rights of the terminally ill. They are the people who choose to take their own life. If they get medical assistance, that does not appear to me to change their view. It is the decision of the individual themselves. I find it totally irrational for religious groups to try and thrust their beliefs on everybody else within the community. It has to come back to the right of the individual.
Ms MARY SUTHERLAND —My name is Mary Sutherland and I have been a resident of the Territory for 30 years. We have heard a lot about choosing tonight. None of us chose the day we were born and none of us chose the parents who nurtured and cared for us during the first years of our life so that we live to grow up.
Life is a terminal illness--someone has already said that--but the process of our dying is a long one. It begins at our conception and it takes in the actions and choices of a whole lifetime. As we grow, we need to choose whether we will accept the gifts which life offers us or whether we will reject them. For much of their lives, many people deny that death comes at the end of it all. We make our choices with regard to our egos. If it feels good--do it. If it gives us pleasure--do it. We try to avoid things that will give us pain. We like to imagine that we can control our circumstances, our lifestyle, our job, our family, our recreation and relationships, at least some of the time.
When someone does die, someone near us, we are confronted with the pain and the powerlessness with which we entered the world. We would rather not recognise that as part of life. We cannot make the pain better. We cannot fix the disease. We and the person dying are at the end of the road. Some healers would see themselves as failures at this point. One wonders whether the pain is greater for those people watching a person die than it is for the one dying. Shooting someone to put them out of their misery may do more for the person behind the gun than the person dying.
When Mr Perron first thought of this law many people said: `Palliative care is not easily available in the Northern Territory.' It still isn't. In many people's minds, the palliative carers are the experts who can teach the rest of us how to deal with this situation of pain and loss. Others may see them as people like babysitters, doing a caring, messy job which is too hard and too painful for the rest of us to do on our own.
Our culture of the individual makes it hard for people who can no longer work, take control of their own life, or be of any economic value to the world. There are no longer any yardsticks by which to measure my value when I am dying. Someone else will have to care for me, then, as an infant at my birth.
For many individuals the hardest thing can be to let go and allow others that privilege of care. The gift of letting go--another of life's gifts--the gift of grief, the gift of powerlessness, the gift of saying goodbye, are part of the help that we should be able to give our dying. If we give them a glowing computer screen with a fatal message on it and a button to press, we are cutting short that process and leaving the dying person to a kind of despair.
Assenting to a euthanasia law is taking the easy, adolescent way out. It is saying, `These things hurt too much. They are too painful. Let's encourage this person out of sight as quickly as possible.' Afterwards, the supplier of the means of destruction has to live with it.
In the 1500s, John Donne put it this way: `No man is an island . . . ' and also, `Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' John Donne knew something about interdependence that we have forgotten. People today seem to ignore that and pretend independence. We are spending megamoney researching youth suicide and black deaths in custody; on the other hand, we are legislating to allow people to kill themselves in certain circumstances. We are confused about the value of the person.
I ask the members of the Senate committee to give people in the NT the
opportunity to grow up and to develop the maturity and compassion needed to
accept the gifts of grief, pain and darkness, so that our caring for others
can grow and mature. Please, do not push me under the carpet when my turn
comes. Please, be there to hold my hand, love me, wash my body and value my
dying. Help us not to remain a Territory of denying adolescents. Please,
overturn this law.
GWEN PHILLIPS —I came to the Territory in 1950 as a nurse. In the old days, people died much younger, their death was quicker and less painful. As the years have gone on, there are more people suffering from a long terminal illness. The medical profession intervenes and prolongs their suffering in many ways.
I have seen people reach the extreme. Not everyone will. Those who die from a heart attack or a haemorrhage or an organ malfunction are the lucky ones. But the unfortunate ones will continue on until they are nothing more than a skeleton with skin stretched over it, their bones exposed in their joints. No amount of palliative care can stop that. They will be incontinent, suffering and begging to die.
I congratulate the medical profession because, as the years went on, they did take action, although illegally. We all know they have been doing it. It has become an accepted and expected practice that, when the doctor considers that the patient has suffered enough and become weak enough, he will play God and give them the injection. He plays God, certainly. The patient has no say in it.
Basically, palliative care is a manipulation of drugs. If you looked into it, you might find that the manipulation of drugs could be illegal and that, in actual fact, they are overdosing people. I do not criticise the medical profession for doing it; I congratulate them for doing it.
The anti-euthanasia people insist on calling the Northern Territory measure a law. It is not a law; it is a legal option for people who have suffered enough and want to die with dignity. They do not want to look like some thing lying in a bed that instils horror into people who visit them. They want their loved ones to think of them with dignity, not with horror. Euthanasia is purely an option. When they say, `We've had enough, we'll have it now', rather than waiting for the doctor to give it to them, it may only be a matter of a few weeks or a few days. This is not a law; it is a humane option. The difference is that this is voluntary.
In the last 40 or 50 years, the population of the Territory has come from all over Australia and the world. The population is very knowledgeable, very hardworking and very responsible. I admire them immensely and I am proud to be a Territorian.
For the last six months, this euthanasia matter has been discussed
thoroughly from all angles and viewpoints, in homes and in the street, by
people with different attitudes and different lifestyles from all around
the world. It has been discussed thoroughly and I think the assessment that
78 per cent of the people in the Territory want this euthanasia bill to
stay is a very accurate one. Thank you.
JOHN GOWA —I have been a Territorian for 20 years. The reason for my contribution is not to challenge the decision of the parliament or to embarrass ourselves against the constitution which is already in place. My argument is that the right to die is not the law of nature. The law of nature is natural death. Do not try to fight against nature because we are destined to fail. We are living under its law.
The right to vote on this issue is not the luxury of our parliament in this beautiful building. It is an issue for the whole human race. Euthanasia is a religious issue. It is not a political issue by any means. If we still need the buildings of churches, mosques or temples to defend the consciences of people, then let those people who work under those buildings decide whether euthanasia can become law, not the dignitaries who work in this building for the well-being of the Northern Territory people.
The votes of half plus one were gained with the vote of one who is not in this world with us now. Let us consider the one vote that made the difference. This one vote cannot represent the whole human race. Even the Aboriginal people, who are the owners of this land, have raised great concerns about euthanasia.
We are the rational people--we try to rationalise the natural law for our convenience--but do not forget that we are also the people with faith, whoever we are, including those who claim they are atheists. We all know that there is life after death. Maybe only dogs and cats do not know this. Even if they do know, they will not ask for the injection to die. So do not force yourself to go to the next life if you are not called to go there.
I was shut up once when I raised a similar issue in one of the public meetings, but because this is the right forum, I raise it again for a second time. What I raise today is not a question; it is just a concern. We are all proud Territorians. Do not make us the laughing stock of the world just for the sake of the omissions of one or two people in our parliament. I am against this law and I am always against it.
GRAEME EVERINGHAM —I live in Darwin. I have lived here for the last 20 years or thereabouts. I am vehemently in favour of the choice embraced in the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. The right specifically outlined in the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act is the right of choice of the terminally ill individual. The act empowers the terminally ill individual alone to make their own choice about the appropriate treatment for that individual's terminal illness.
I find it incredible that the major continuing argument against the need for the act involves the use of a fatal dose of pain-killer in the name of palliative care. The doctors who use this argument apparently have no ethical problem with killing a terminally ill patient over several days or weeks by a gradual increase of the palliative care drug to lethal levels. This is euthanasia by the choice of the palliative carer.
But hold on: isn't the other major argument against our law that it could in future open the floodgates to the killing of patients without reference to the patient's consent or wishes? This has been called killing by the state. The palliative carer administers a dose of drug in the full knowledge that it is most probably lethal. There is no patient's consent. There is no second doctor's opinion. There is no specialist's opinion. There are no rights of the terminally ill patient reflected in this procedure at all. Maybe the federal parliament should consider introducing legislation prohibiting palliative care!
The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act most certainly gives the patient the choice of deciding the appropriate treatment for them after the terminal status is diagnosed. The decisions about the choices available under the act are very private. The choices made are very private. They should remain so.
Opponents of the act rarely address their own right to choose. They are usually expressing concern about possible future changes to the law to allow persons other than the patient to decide the patient's fate. This cannot happen under the law now. This must not be allowed to happen in the future. We must remain vigilant against future misuse of any law. Possible bad future law is not a reason to repeal good law now.
The key word is still choice. As I said at the beginning, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act empowers one person only to choose. It empowers the terminally ill individual alone to choose the appropriate treatment for their individual terminal illness.
I currently have no rights--none at all--under the Rights of the
Terminally Ill Act. I am not terminally ill. The Northern Territory act
sets out a choice for me should I become terminally ill. I applaud the
availability of that choice. I wish to retain the choice made available to
me in the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. Thank you.
JUDY DENT —I am Bob Dent's widow. My husband had been terminally ill for some time when he chose to use the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to end his suffering and to end my suffering. The advent of Kevin Andrews' bill upset my husband greatly. He was very relieved when the parliament of the Northern Territory passed the original legislation and so he was extremely upset to find that this compassionate, good piece of legislation might be overturned. Fortunately, it has not yet been overturned. I sincerely hope it will not be overturned.
I know you said this was supposed to be for Territorians, but I have a statement here from the widower of Janet Mills, who also used the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, and I would like to read that on his behalf. This is a statement from Dave Mills who lives at Naracoorte.
I would like the Senate to know that my family totally supports the Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act and hopes you will vote against the Kevin Andrews bill.
It was so important for my wife Janet to have me and her youngest son present with her when she died so we could say our goodbyes with dignity. If Janet could not have used the law, she intended to take her own life. She was very worried about that because she felt that she would have to be alone to protect her family from legal problems.
Janet was a very determined woman and a special person. She would have been so pleased that the third person to use the law found it easier than she did to find a specialist to confirm her illness. She was happy with the palliative care she received, but she had just had enough at the end.
Even though we are not Territorians, Janet was so grateful to the
Territory that she was able to use the law. It is still such a new thing
and one day South Australia and other states might follow the Territory's
lead and there will be no need for people to travel interstate. I know she
would want to thank Territorians for their thoughts and kindness in the
past few weeks.
RICK BAWDEN —I have been in the territory for 12 years but in that 12 years I have become fiercely proud to call myself a Territorian.
I might not agree with everything that the CLP government up here does, but this one was right. They say you should die naturally, but how about living naturally? You are pumped up on drugs, your life is being prolonged unnaturally and, when you get to the point, who wants to make that choice to die? Nobody does, but maybe they are being pushed; they are so much pain because their life has been prolonged unnaturally. They should have gone a long time ago, but the medical profession would not let them. They had to live.
They are in so much pain because their life has been prolonged unnaturally. They should have gone a long time ago, but the medical profession wouldn't let them. They had to live. Can someone tell me what is ethical about telling a dying person, someone who is in pain and is suffering and wants to die and has asked to die, `No. Sorry, mate. You've got to live. But don't worry about it, we've got these really good drugs that will have you so doped to the eyeballs you won't be able to shower yourself, you won't be able to toilet yourself and you won't recognise anyone that walks in the room'? And they are still expected to pay for this.
This is torture. When someone wants to sleep and wants peace, let them. If there is no choice, why prolong it? When I first saw the Andrews bill, to me it was democratic vandalism. This is democratically popular legislation. I doubt whether Andrews would spit on an Anzac's grave, but why desecrate what they fought for: our right to choose--the same way we choose who represents us.
Last time I saw it, 74 per cent of Australians were in favour, 19 per cent were against and seven per cent just did not know. Kim Beazley says that we have to get closer to the people, and yet he votes against it. John Howard is always spouting about mandates. This is a mandate that would give most politicians an orgasm.
I feel that it comes down to a right of choice, a basic human right. People have said that you have a right to die, that we are all going to die. That is not a right. We do not have a choice in that. That is inevitable. It is the end of life. I am asking you guys--I am pleading with the Senate--to defeat this bill because we all want the right to choice. Who in this room wants the right to choice? If you do, just say `choice'.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS —Choice!
RICK BAWDEN —That is what Territorians want. Thank you.
ARTHUR JONES —I am now a Territorian. I would like to put this case to you. For the last 10 years of my mother's life, her body was wearing out. Her brain was not, but she was gradually losing all the natural functions of a human body. Many a time when I was visiting my mother in nursing homes, hospitals and so forth she would say, `I wish I could end it all.' But of course down in Victoria she could not. I am sure she asked the doctors to, but they would not. Eventually, she got to the stage where she had to be picked up, put into a wheelchair, wheeled to her bed, lifted out of the wheelchair, put in the bed, and the same for everything else. She had to be taken to the toilet and put on the special potty chair and all the rest of it.
On New Year's Eve she died. She died happy. She saw one of her brothers coming for her and she said, `Les, you've come for me.' My wife and I were beside her bed and she had a great smile on her face. Her body had turned itself off and she was happy. If she had been an animal--a dog or a cat--run over by a car, the 10 years would not have been. Everyone would have said, `Take it along to the vet and get it put down. It is suffering. The poor thing is suffering.' If we had left it in the gutter we would have been in gaol for causing an animal to suffer.
My mother suffered in varying degrees over the last 10 years of her life. I am sure that if she was in the territory--with Phil Nitschke's button--she would have pressed it, about eight years prior. I hope that when I get to the stage where my body is not functioning properly, and I have to be carried to the toilet, I can have a button to push. I do not want to be a vegetable. I do not want to have a good brain in a worn-out body. How many people do?
It is all very well the God botherers saying, `We can't kill anyone.' We
have a right to death. We have a right to life. They are god-given things.
With those few words, I will leave you. I hope you Senate gentlemen can
kill the bill--if that is the only thing you want to see killed.
NATHAN POULTER —First of all, I would like to say that I am Church of England, and that does not affect my opinion on this whatsoever. My opinion is that there should be the right to die, simply due to the fact that it is every person's individual opinion whether or not they should die.
Secondly, I would like to say that I doubt there is a single person in this room who knows exactly what they would do in that position. The odds are on that pretty much anybody in this room would say, `Yes, I want to die,' and they probably would end up doing it. That is all I want to say.
PATTI-JO CROCKETT —I am a fairly new Territorian, having been here only two years. When a gentleman earlier said something about choice and everybody said `choice,' I was thinking, `Yes, this is what we are doing.' A society chooses its values. We choose values as a group of people. I think at the moment we are in a time when it is not just an individual choice, because we are legislating; and we are here tonight to express something about what we are feeling about values in our society. I feel that is what we are in--a time of choice, examining one of the values that up until now has been an undergirding to our society and to the quality of life that we have chosen as Australians, as part of the Australian way of life. And there are very divided opinions in this room about where we are going with that.
I think the value that is under discussion is life. What is it? It is quality. It is protection--in what circumstances? What is the dignity and the value of each person in this room? Because of that, it is not just each person in this room. To me, it is each person in Australia. It is a national issue for me because each one of us has to contend with an issue of life and death.
Therefore, I would support the federal government in reviewing legislation--whether it is made by any state or any Territory--that has implications and ramifications for the whole of the nation. In my opinion, this would be one of those types of legislation.
For myself, I am fairly concerned about the consequences. I really understand the pain of people in a dying situation. I was a nurse for a long time, and to me that was one of the most precious things--to stand by and be with someone in the passage from life to death. What I am concerned about is that some of the long-term implications of this particular legislation are that we are underrating values that have given quality to our society. It is not just an individual choice. We are making a society choice.
I am also very concerned about--I will give you an example--how easy it is to make the shift from voluntary euthanasia to euthanasia in its true sense. I was fairly disturbed last year when we had a youth parliament here, and the young people from the Territory were debating this issue. One of the boys got up and said something fairly similar to the man who spoke before me. He said, `My dog was sick and I put my dog down. Why can't I put my grandmother down?' I am sorry, but I was horrified. Your grandmother, yourself, your son or your daughter is of much more value than a dog.
I also have a concern over the quality of palliative care in the Territory. The more this legislation is taken up, what is actually going to happen to that quality of care? I would also see, from my point of view, that one of the functions of law in our society is to express, shape and protect the values of our society. Our law should do that. It should express, shape and protect the values of our society.
I am a little bit concerned that public opinion has, to some degree,
been misinformed. I think there is a good example in South Australia.
Initially, when the legislation came up for debate, the majority of people
were in favour of it but over time that whole thing turned around. From
where I stand, because we--as a group of people and as a nation--are making
a society choice about values for life, I would support the federal
government's review and I would ask you, gentlemen and ladies, to support
the Andrews bill.
SHEILA CLARKE —I am 80 years of age and I have lived in the Territory for 54 years. I am totally against voluntary euthanasia because, as one previous speaker said, we have no choice in entering life and I do not think we should have any choice in leaving it.
You are talking about people suffering. Everybody suffers; this is life. If you do not have some suffering, how can you enjoy the better parts? It is by contrast.
My big concern is that you have now legalised, or are attempting to legalise, a criminal act. Once you legalise anything--I do not care what it is--if it is against the natural law, the floodgates are open. I believe that it is very easy to forge signatures so anybody, if they thought I was getting in the way, could forge my signature and have me put away. I want to die when my time comes. I do not care when it is or how I go but I will take my risk at how I go and I think everybody else should do the same. Thank you.
SEAN DE KRESTER —I am 28 and, as a young man, I would like to appeal to the committee not to bring these laws in, because something might happen to me when I get older and more vulnerable and things are getting harder and harder to cope with. Even as a young man, when I suffer it is very easy to have the temptation to commit suicide so it is not easy to go through the hard times at all when being young. I find the fear is that, as I get older, it is going to get very difficult. If these laws are in front of me, saying that there is a button to push, it will be very much easier for me to take this choice that is put before me.
Rather, I desire to have--through my soul--the capacity to go through suffering because I have a firm belief that life is forever. I feel this is true in my heart, that there is nothing to be afraid of and that life continues after this death. As a young man, I would like to make this appeal to the committee. I know a few other people of my age who feel this way too, and who would like to be put on record as saying, `We don't really want this law put in front of us.' Thank you.
KARYN WEERAMANTHRI —I would like to say that I think death is actually a very public act, not a private one. Everyone here tonight is, I think, testimony to that. We have heard a lot tonight about choice and the rights of the individual. What concerns me is the rights of the common good and the message that this legislation gives to people, as the young man has just said.
The difficulty with this legislation is that you cannot legislate against the burnt chop syndrome. Mother always used to take the burnt chop, giving the good ones to you, and it is that message that this legislation gives in relation to too much suffering: `Look at the effect on my family, on my loved ones, on the doctors and on the nurses. It would be easier if I were to end my life now and end everyone's suffering, not just my own.'
There have also been a lot of references to animals and how you would
put down a dog. People have said you would not let a dog suffer; you would
put it down. You then think of the reasons why we put down our animals. We
put them down because it gets too hard to look after them, it costs too
much to go to the vet, they get old and cranky and they might bite the
neighbours' kids. That is what I am concerned about, the message that this
legislation gives to people, and you cannot legislate against human nature.
That is all I have to say, thank you.
CHARLES COOMBS —I am 60 1/2 years old. I would not be here tonight but for my wife, who convinced me to come. My wife is almost blind. She suffers day in and day out. Once she lies down on that bed, there is no way she can get out unless she is assisted. She is not dying--at least I do not think so. She has been ill for 15 years. I watch her every night and I see her suffering and yet I do not wish her to be put down. She says, `Go there tonight, tell these people that we are not animals, we are not an "it".' She says, `Tell them we are made in the image and likeness of God.' It is not very easy for me to come out to talk to you tonight, because it is very emotional for me to see her suffer like that.
Just before Christmas, I was in a school with children who were 10, 11 and 12 years of age. There were 60 of them. My job was teaching morals. One of the things I said was, `Thou shalt not kill. Tell me about it. Tell me about euthanasia.' They all knew it--the children knew about euthanasia. So I went along with it and I said, `What do you think of it?' To my surprise, the whole 60 of them were for euthanasia. Then I asked about abortion. They were not quite sure about that one, to be honest with you. But they all knew about euthanasia and they were all for it. So that tells you what kind of society we are making. Is that the kind of society we want?
MARTIN JACOB —Senators, you have heard at length from the supporters of the Andrews bill and their belief in life. I wonder whether they would vote against war, whether they come from the same group--they appear to be from the same group--that would support the return of capital punishment for those who commit suicide. I am certain that the Senate is quite intelligent enough to see the real values and whether people should have a choice.
I will tell you a story which is very close to me. My mother, when she was in her 90s, took an overdose of sleeping tablets. To make doubly sure, she put a plastic bag over her head and within a few hours she was dead. Life, as we have heard, is a terminal business. I hope that when I get to that stage I will have either the courage that my mother had or some other means like that which is currently available in the Northern Territory.
PAUL ASSIMIANT —I am not very knowledgeable about the issue, but I just want to share a few thoughts of mine. I have lived in the Territory for a short while and I am very happy here and very proud of it. At the same time, I am concerned about this issue. This issue has been around for a long time and has been debated by many countries around the world and still we have not had it. I am very concerned that, in the Territory, 15 people or so have been able to come to that sort of decision. That is my area of concern, especially with a law the intent of which is really to get rid of people, to kill somebody. That is the essence of it.
We have a Natural Death Act which allows people, in my opinion, to die in dignity. The problem that I have with the act is that it is an irreversible process. What about things like a misdiagnosis or times when people want to change their minds because things are not going too well? There isn't the possibility of that. I find that although it is done with the best intention, I still believe it is morally wrong to do such a thing.
I am concerned about the society we will be living in. I have young children myself, and I am concerned that we are not being seen as a caring and loving society. That is where I have my main problem. I have seen both my grandfather and my brother die of terminal illnesses and I have seen that when people are loved and cared for there is a desire to hang in there. I am concerned that people might feel they are being abandoned because life is getting too hard. I know it is hard but, at the same time, I do not believe it is really a choice we have. Things do get hard. I believe that we need to hang in there and that with good care, people who love us and people who support us, we should be okay.
I put my trust in doctors and those who care, and my concern is that that might be eroded as well. I am also concerned about the pressure that the act will put on those who are weakest in our society. They might feel they are being rejected and left on their own.
I defend human life in every form that it is. I am a Christian and I am proud of it, but I do not wish my views to be imposed on people. I defend human life. I support it. I want to be with people and help them when they are going through a hard patch. I want to be able to develop a caring and loving attitude so that we can help people as opposed to in a way disposing of them when they come to the end of their natural, economic or social life.
In Australia, we live in a multicultural society. A lot of the people
come here from cultures where euthanasia is totally unacceptable. I am
concerned about the marginalisation or the alienation of these people.
PAUL EWING —Senators, I have lived in the Territory for my 18 years and I am proud to say I am a Territorian. I feel myself as being reasonably non-aligned politically. I was the person who, in youth parliament, was described as equating my grandmother to a dog. I did not. I am not suggesting that Ms Clarke has selective memory; I am merely suggesting that she mistook my meaning. I loved my dog; I still do. It has been dead for nearly 10 years--but oh, well. I love my grandmother too, but my dog was dying; my grandmother might. My dog did not have a choice: it was dying, it was in pain, it was put down. My grandmother--if she is in pain, I want her to have a choice. She is a very proud and independent woman, but I want her to have a choice. She may choose yes, she may choose no--it is her choice--but she must have that choice.
We are not talking about murder here in any sense of the word. We are talking about assisted suicide--ugly word that it is. We are just talking about one person who wants to top themselves--forgive the slang--but they need help to do it if they want it. I hope if I lose my ability to run, to jump, whatever--I have had a good life--if I am dying and if I am in pain, and if I am able to, I will kill myself. If I cannot use my legs I will still kill myself. But if I am strapped to a bed, drugged up to the eyeballs and I cannot even think for myself, I will probably want someone to help me. I would not ask someone who would feel guilty about it; I would not ask someone who would become a flagellant later because of it. I would ask someone who I love and respect to help me end my life and I would ask them to help me to do it with dignity and with respect. Thank you.
STAN FENNING —I identify very strongly with the emotive cases which have been told to us tonight about people who are suffering. I am sure everybody, regardless of their opinion about euthanasia, can identify with suffering. I can relate emotive stories myself from my own family. If euthanasia was limited only to the terminally ill I would think twice about the decision I have come to. The decision is that I oppose euthanasia and I invite the intervention of the federal parliament via the Kevin Andrews bill.
Every cause has an effect and it is incumbent upon us to think about this issue, not in a blinkered area of time but with the future in mind. There are precedents elsewhere which can help us to do this. I am willing to give Marshall Perron the benefit of the doubt because of the extensive safety networks he has built into the Territory legislation. But Marshall Perron's intentions are irrelevant to the future of this legislation, because the future is out of his hands. He can no more control the future direction and application of euthanasia than he can direct the sun or the moon.
We know from the Remmelink report from Holland, which is not from a right-wing conservative group but from the government, that in 1990 1,040 people died from involuntary euthanasia. That figure works out to three people a day, and that excludes people done away with through other means without their consent, such as double-dosing. Euthanasia accounted for 9.1 per cent of the annual death rate of Holland in 1990. The majority of deaths from euthanasia in Holland still are involuntary.
Other developments in Holland include: moves to kill handicapped newborns; formal guidelines for killing without request; affirming euthanasia for psychiatric reasons like depression, regardless of whether the person is healthy or not; and encouraging doctors not to admit elderly patients to hospital but to lethally inject them instead. These are precedents which have happened--they are not allegations--and they are on record.
We can already look into the future if we are prepared to look outside of the Territory and outside of Australia. Some people regard Dr Kevorkian in the United States as being crazy. The truth of the matter is he is simply being logically consistent with the fundamental principles of euthanasia: the principle that we have the right to determine how and when we want to die, and that our body belongs to us. Eighty thousand babies a year in Australia are aborted on the principle that a woman can do what she wants with her own body. Similarly, in euthanasia the underpinning right is that we can do what we want with our own body.
Once we have established those principles, therefore, it is illogical to limit euthanasia, for example, to a Territorian who is mentally incompetent to make that decision for themselves, because their suffering is not different just because they are mentally incompetent. Having established the principle of personal freedom, there is no reason why a teenager at the age of 18 or 19, who simply no longer wishes to live, cannot take that right to die themselves and avail themselves of euthanasia.
One of the most fundamental flaws of the Territory bill is that it is nonsensical to establish a law based on personal freedom which you then promptly restrict to a small minority--the terminally ill. Dr Jack Kevorkian would like to give prisoners in the United States sentenced to more than three years prison the right to be terminated by euthanasia; and also to people in their 20s and 30s who simply no longer want to live because they are depressed. He will find quite a lot of them in Australia, because the primary cause for death amongst males between the age of 16 and 25 is suicide. So he would not be short of inquiries.
The current bill is riddled, as I have said, with safeguards, but it had
to be designed like that just to get it on the statute books. Now that it
is on, laws can be changed--and already there are calls for relaxations.
The reason most deaths in Holland by euthanasia happen without knowledge or
consent is because that is the logical consequence of the principle of
euthanasia. That is why the federal government needs to intervene, via the
Andrews bill, to prevent the Territory parliament from changing the course
of moral history, not just in Darwin or the Territory or Australia, but in
the world. If the Territory loses rights in the process, I do regard that
as regrettable. But it is far better to lose some of our parliament's
powers than for the Territory parliament to usher Australia into the
beginnings of a nightmare society. Thank you.
COL FRIEL —I am a supporter of voluntary euthanasia and a great believer in freedom of choice. First, I want to deal with the legal aspects of this--the power of the federal government over the Northern Territory--and then with how much power the state should have over the individual.
On the first aspect, what right has the federal government got to interfere with the duly elected government of the Northern Territory? Section 122 of the Australian constitution says, in part, that the federal parliament:
. . . may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth . . .
Obviously, that refers to the Northern Territory. But I put it to you that the laws it can make, and did make, under that section refer to the setting up of the government of the Northern Territory--that is, the Legislative Assembly--nothing else.
The laws made by the Legislative Assembly are independent of any power held by the Commonwealth. In fact, I have a communication in writing from a minister in the previous Labor government, Senator John Faulkner, dated 20 December 1994, stating:
The Commonwealth retained legislative responsibilities only in the areas of Aborigines, national parks, uranium and other prescribed substances, and industrial relations.
I repeat those: Aborigines, national parks, uranium and other prescribed substances, and industrial relations. You will note that it is quite clear and quite specific. There is not a word about voluntary euthanasia--not a word at all. That is all that section 122 means: the setting up of the government of the Northern Territory, not the governing of the Northern Territory. Governing the Northern Territory is the prerogative of the Legislative Assembly, not the federal government, with those qualifications set out by Senator Faulkner. It would be not only odd but stupid to set up a government and then override it, unless it came under Australia's international treaty obligations, such as in Tasmania.
Let us have look at another aspect of this law--that is, the right of the state to interfere in the private affairs of the individual. Are we born slaves or are we born free? Are we nothing but pawns in the affairs of bigots? What right has the state got to tell us that we cannot commit suicide or that women cannot have an abortion or that we cannot watch whatever we want to see on videos or on the Internet or that we have to be a certain age before we are married?
There is a wave of right-wing repression sweeping this country which began with Bob Hawke using the armed forces to break the pilots strike, and the Andrews legislation is a part of it. We must oppose it. Anybody with any concern for the rights of the individual must oppose it. The state is continually attacking the rights of the individual so as to make him or her conform to some perceived politically correct mould. It has to be continually opposed, as in this case.
I now want to deal with some of the statements made by Mr Andrews in the federal parliament. I cannot deal with them all because of the five-minute limitation. Mr Andrews expresses concern that the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act has a direct impact on other Australians. So does every other piece of legislation passed by state and territory governments when citizens move from one state or territory to another.
Mr Andrews said that the Northern Territory act is not about the discontinuous or futile heroic treatment. Of course it is. It is also about `the refusal of burdensome or unwanted medical attention', despite his assertions to the contrary. It is about people with a terminal illness deciding that it is time to die. Mr Andrews said plans to legalise voluntary euthanasia in New South Wales were dropped in the face of overwhelming parliamentary opposition. He did not mention that it was abandoned despite public support for it.
Mr Andrews said the national approach to rejecting the intentional
killing of the terminally ill in assisted suicide is therefore reflected in
the Commonwealth bill. This is an unprincipled statement for two reasons.
Firstly, the killing of the terminally ill without their consent is not
part of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. Secondly, the overwhelming
majority of the people of this nation support assisted suicide, and that is
the real national approach to the matter.
YVONNE SUTHERLAND —My name is Yvonne Sutherland. I am a Territorian and a believer and a supporter of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. I am a believer in choice and I am a believer in the right of Territorians to live in a place that makes its laws and can believe that they can be upheld and not interfered with by federal parliament.
However, apart from that, I would like to draw to people's attention that the debate is not about ageing and terminal illness. Regardless of people's puns on the issue, ageing people are not necessarily terminally ill and especially in the determination as used in the act.
People seem to have forgotten that out of this debate are many young people who also suffer with a terminal illness, and fairly obvious to all of us should be those people who have HIV, for whom there is no return once they have passed that stage. It terrifies me to think--we have all seen enough documentaries of people who have been in those throes--that there is no way back. And I am a God botherer. People ought to have a right to be able to call it quits. Morphine infusion--I have witnessed plenty of it--is not my ideal way to die.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Can I just say something briefly. Originally, when we opened, Grant said that people who would like to talk about euthanasia itself would do so in the first bit and people who actually wanted to talk about the constitutional state of the issue would do that in the second bit. Obviously, we are not going to be slavish about that, but I just wanted to remind people that if they are holding back for that reason then it is probably appropriate for them to come forward now to speak. I stress that by saying that anyone who wants to talk about euthanasia can of course do so.
BILL ROWLEY —My name is Bill Lowrie. I was an orderly at the Royal Darwin Hospital for eight years. I have seen a lot of pain and suffering. I have had considerable pain and suffering myself. I rolled a wagon when I was bull catching in the early years--1984. I broke both legs, hips and pelvis and I am on my second hip replacement.
I am a supporter of euthanasia--not that I am going to use it myself. My mother has cancer and she is probably going to want to use this in the future. If she needs to use it, I want her to be able to call her kids aside and say, `Look, I've had enough suffering. Could you support me in my right to die?' If she wants that support, I will be there for her, and anybody else who needs it. That is all I want to say.
PAMELA TROTMAN —I am a social worker of some 30 years experience. I come tonight, firstly, to say I do believe in the rights of the terminally ill. I do not like calling it euthanasia because I think that distorts the picture.
I recall the issues about child protection that were about when I first came into social work. There was a big debate in the early 1970s in New South Wales about whether child abuse--particularly physical abuse--took place. I have it on record, though I cannot quote it exactly, that the then minister for child welfare in Victoria was quoted as saying that there was no child abuse and physical abuse of children in Victoria that it all happened north of the border.
Since the early 1970s, I have seen the nation and the world come to grips with the unpleasantness of child abuse. In in-service courses I had to do, one of the things I first learnt was that the first case of child protection was taken out in a New York court by nuns for a child who had been severely neglected. This was in the early part of this century. The only legislation available to those nuns to protect the welfare of that child was for the protection of animals. They argued the case successfully on the basis that the child was a member of the animal kingdom.
That has been very telling for me because since then I have seen a nation and the world come to grips, as I said earlier, with a most unpleasant, horrifying, distasteful situation. It is about recognising and acknowledging what goes on in our society; about not glossing it over with `this couldn't happen, these people are too moral'. We have too many incidents, where supposedly people are moral and this is not happening any more, where major abuses of children and major perpetrators of child abuse have been found.
What I see happening now in the Territory, and I applaud the Territory
for this, is the Territory actually attempting through the course of this
legislation to get Australians, and perhaps even the world, to come to
grips with what it is like to live and die, and to think about that. Not
necessarily so that we can have control in a selfish hedonistic way, but so
we can make sure that we can live and die with respect and dignity for
ourselves and each other. The child protection legislation makes sure of
that. This is just another form of legislation which helps people protect
their rights and their dignity in this world. Thank you.
JOHN McCORMACK —I have lived in Darwin since 1968. I am not in a terminal state, as these crutches might suggest. I do not believe that this debate is what a lot of people here seem to think it is about: that is, the rights of an individual and freedom of choice. We all sympathise with the cases of Bob Dent and Janet Mills, and the citizen who was euthanased this week. But that is not the issue that the Coalition Against Euthanasia is concerned about. The issue is legislating and basing your legislation around hard cases and, in so doing, you are opening the gates to the legislation proceeding in directions that, with all the goodwill in the world here, nobody in the Northern Territory has possibly thought about. In the fullness of time, as our friend over there explained, it is almost inevitable it will happen as it has happened with the abortion law reform. We have had 80,000 abortions in this country--so the statistician tells us--in the last 12 months or so.
The senators, as I understand from Bob and Grant, have told us that it is all kosher and that we should, in effect, ignore the euthanasia legislation and the circumstances of its passage in the name of states' rights and tell the Senate to oppose passage of the Andrews bill. First of all, we are not a state. There are no states rights. I know the Northern Territory government says that it relies on the precedents of colonial legislatures and 150 years of non-interference; but colonial legislatures never passed legislation--or attempted to pass legislation--authorising doctors to kill patients. And that is the issue: authorising doctors to kill patients.
The seriousness of the legislation and what it purports to do is a
fundamental issue and it must be taken into account before people become
preoccupied with states rights. It is obvious to me, and I think to any
thinking citizen, that the parliament of the Northern Territory has no
intention of back-pedalling at all. This meeting and the way I was lucky to
get in, getting here at 7.25 p.m. tonight, suggests to me the Northern
Territory government has made sure that the branches of the political
parties are well represented here tonight. It was only through using a
little bit of influence and expressing a bit of irritation that I got in.
The denial suggests the truth of what I am saying. Anyway, we are not a
state, as I have said.
Senator Bob Collins —All those with Country Liberal Party membership tickets, hands up!
JOHN McCORMACK —The way the legislation was passed is intriguing. Steve Hatton kicked off the debate in the parliament on 22 May. The report of the parliamentary select committee is dated May 1995. It bears the legend on the exterior that it was presented and ordered to be printed by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory on 16 May 1995. The government printer is unlikely to have produced that in less than about one day before the debate. There were about another 1,800 pages of transcript of evidence taken by that select committee, its terms of reference being not to make any recommendation but simply to report. If the government printer produced that 1,800 pages as well as this report before parliament sat to debate this matter I would be astonished.
Steve Hatton indicated that nobody knows what this debate is about. The community is ignorant. Politicians, one would have thought, would have gone to their electorates and explained to them the implications of the issue. But they left it on the basis of the Newspoll. The Newspoll asked, if somebody is terminally ill and their doctor is prepared to kill them, should he have the right to do it without criminal sanction. Of course, we would all say yes. But of course that is not the issue.
Steve also talked about obscene haste from February to May--three months. Nobody knew anything about it. The Aboriginal communities were essentially disenfranchised in this debate, notwithstanding that they had elected members in the parliament. But this thing--the alleged conscience vote--was steamrolled. I like our Attorney-General suggesting there was no proper conscience vote in Canberra. I think Canberra could ask the same question of the Northern Territory.
Leaving aside all of that--and I know the clock is running against me and I will have to be quick--the issue is: should the federal legislature put a spoke in the works of the Northern Territory legislature, adamant as the Northern Territory legislature is that it will not back down? It delivered a remonstrance and my answer to that is: the remonstrance was delivered by the parliament to Charles, not by Charles to the parliament. On that note, I leave you.
ESTHER MANCINI —Good evening, everybody. I am just 14 years old. Many people tonight have talked about dignity, so I would like to say something about it, too. My dad has always told me that dignity is to confront your problem and to tackle it. People have talked tonight about dying with dignity. Now I am a bit confused and, if you allow me, even shocked because my belief has always been that to have dignity I should tackle all my problems like an adult. I would like to ask everyone a question: what is dignity? Is it running in front of your problems, which is suffering, or tackling it and not opting for voluntary euthanasia?
Also, Paul--I think that is his name--said that if he was 20 years old
and he lost both of his legs he would like to have the choice to press a
button and end his illness. So does this mean that we should kill every
abnormal human being--even babies? If babies are abnormal, maybe we should
kill them, too. Why don't we be just like Hitler and kill everything that
is not perfect? I would just like to leave you again with my question: what
is dignity? Thank you.
ROBYN LESLEY —I am a Darwin resident of 27 years. The question of dignity is, in fact, a very good question, as is the issue of individual responsibility against community responsibility. There has been a lot of discussion tonight, which I think reflects an ignorance of the legislation in the first place and probably, from my perception, a fundamental ignorance of the underpinning of dignity for human life in all of its forms.
I find it really interesting to reflect that the Northern Territory, being the first to look at the rights of the terminally ill, was also the first `state' to protect the rights of the child in so far as introducing mandatory reporting. So, in that context, it shows of the Northern Territory, as a legislator as well as in the support of the public for its representatives, that it is very conscious of the dilemmas of life and of death.
The rights of the terminally ill legislation requires a number of very fundamental issues to be met in order for you to be eligible to access it. It is not like a road regulation or legislation where everyone is required to wear seat belts. In order to access this legislation, you have to be dying; and the people access it in the last days, minutes or weeks of their life, and people do it based on a whole range of decisions about themselves and their particular circumstances.
I had to confront this issue a number of years ago when my mother was dying of cancer--a particularly difficult death. She was a Roman Catholic--a very staunch Catholic--and she believed that if you killed yourself you went to hell. In the last days, because of the choices that she was facing as an adult, and given all of her life's experiences and all of her religious and ethical backgrounds, she wanted desperately to die, for someone to help her.
To me, one thing seems to me quite inconsistent with the debate that is going on in relation to this piece of legislation. We seem to be saying, or at least some people down south seem to be saying, that we are prepared to sacrifice the interests of those people, who want to make a choice in the last minutes of their lives, for the better good of the society. Now what does that say? What does that say about the values and ethics upon which the society is built? It says that we are prepared to sacrifice some people, putting them through a particular lot of pain and suffering, because we know better.
I have every respect for anybody who has opposition to this legislation. I have respect for people who do not want to be involved in the process. That is their choice. However, what they are saying is, `We want to leave the issue of people who are facing terminal illness, in the last days and weeks of their lives, behind closed doors to doctors who are already making the decision, not with the families.' We are saying, `We want someone else to accept the responsibility.' My perception is that this legislation puts the responsibility where it properly lies and that is with the person who is making the choice about his or her life. I think it also says that to those people who are at their most vulnerable. Hopefully, we will back up this legislation with palliative care and with understanding about death and grieving, not only for the person who is going through it, but for the family and the people around it so that, as a society, we start to grow instead of denying and putting it behind closed doors.
On the issue of decision-making, I feel really affronted when I consider
that a legislature here in the Northern Territory--with members who
personally oppose the concept but who listened to the electorate and dealt
with the issue under very difficult circumstances over a long period of
time--came to a decision that I believe represented the population that
elected its members. I do not mean to discard the interests of the
Aboriginal community or of those people who, for religious or other
reasons, do not want to have anything to do with this legislation--they do
not have to. They do not have to wear the seat belt; the legislation does
not require it. I am looking for members of this Senate--which is, after
all, the protector of states rights--to see ultimately that they have to
put their personal interests and their personal beliefs aside and listen to
what the public is saying. They must not sacrifice those very few people
who want to access the legislation on the horns of their conscience.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Thank you. I would just mention, before I call Eric Poole, that Grant said--when he opened the seminar tonight--that we were going to look to assess the situation at 10 o'clock and finish around about 10 if we could. Considering the way we are going at the moment, in terms of the numbers and the queues, I think there is a fair chance that we can. For the benefit of those people who might want to know, we can try to finish around 10 o'clock; I think we should.
ERIC POOLE —I am the member for Araluen and a resident of Alice Springs. As some members of the committee would know, I was also the chairman of the Select Committee on Euthanasia in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I want to try to correct a couple of things that were said tonight that I think were factually incorrect. The first concerns the printing of the select committee's report and the comments that were made about the compilation of that report. They were printed in the parliament, as required. I am just pointing out that the records, as produced in the parliament of the Northern Territory by the select committee, were all correct. The only reason they did not appear in the listing was because some of the transcripts had not been verified by the people who had made them. But, certainly, the reports that were presented to the parliament were complete and were records of what was said to that committee.
There were 1,126 submission papers, including 255 from within the Northern Territory. The committee was constituted by resolution of the assembly on 22 February 1995. It presented its report on 16 May 1995. I point that out because one of the early commentators said that the parliament did not really consider the question of euthanasia very thoroughly and the legislation was rushed through. I would like to assure honourable members that, in my opinion, the Northern Territory parliament is just as mature as any other parliament of Australia. I include the Senate in that comment. I am sure that the senators, seeing as two of them are graduates of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, would probably agree with me. But I believe that we have the right to decide our own laws in the Northern Territory.
I point out that people have commented on such things as the Dutch experience. I ask the question as a supporter of voluntary euthanasia. You have a parliament of a country in Europe that I believe is a very civilised country. The Prime Minister is a Dutch Roman Catholic. He heads a party called the Christian Democratic Party. They voted overwhelmingly to put into law the guidelines under which the state prosecutor is not to prosecute doctors for carrying out voluntary euthanasia.
Opinion polls in Holland as recent as about four months ago show that about 80 per cent of the electorate in Holland still supports that attitude to the laws on voluntary euthanasia. The latest report in 1995, called `The slippery slope argument', suggests very strongly in the conclusions of that report that there is currently no evidence to suggest that the way in which they have been using voluntary euthanasia in Holland has increased or widened the guidelines of that experience whatsoever.
With regard to the young lady who made the comment and asked the question about what is dignity or what is a dignified end, I would like to repeat something that I said in the House quite a few months ago. At some time in our lives we will all die. If we are lucky, we will die quickly or peacefully. If I do not die by accident, I hope that I will pass away comfortably, looked after by caring professionals and surrounded by people that I love. Unfortunately, however, some of us will have an end that is anything but peaceful. We may suffer relentless vomiting, nausea or breathlessness. Our pain may be agonising. We may have to be sedated into oblivion for days or weeks or, in some cases, even months. Some of us may want to fight on to the end, getting every drop of what we can get out of the precious gift of life, despite the pain or discomfort. However, I am sure many of us may want to say goodbye to life on our terms and in our own time. We may want the freedom to weigh the options before us and then make an earlier but more peaceful exit. Surely we should have that choice.
However, I am sure many of us may want to say goodbye to life on our terms in our own time. We may want the freedom to weigh the options before us and then make an earlier but more peaceful exit. Surely, we should have that choice.
There should never be a right or a wrong way to die. One death should not be called dignified because the person swallowed pills or had a lethal injection and another undignified because he or she struggled to the bitter end. Dignity in death is solely to be defined by the individual and his or her own set of values. Undignified deaths are those in which the moral values of others are imposed on the dying individual against the values, judgment and wishes of the patient.
A safe and effective approach to euthanasia should ensure that the
doctor and the individual explore in openness and honesty how external
influences, family pressures, unhappy marriages and the need to be in
control exert their force on the request for euthanasia. If anything can be
done about it, legalising euthanasia will give the patients the freedom to
talk about options.
MARY McDONOUGH —I am a Northern Territory octogenarian. There have been very many concepts put forward tonight. I would love to answer them all. I would like to say to the little girl who was here before me who asked the question about courage that courage is facing up to life. It does not mean that you cannot face up to death also. Death is not the worst thing in the world. I think that should be understood. There may not be an afterlife; we cannot be sure of that.
During the evening people said that they wanted to choose the quality of life and the society that they lived in. Nobody referred to the possibility that we might have selected for ourselves a community in which cars are on the road and killing people every day. It does not worry us at all. They are killing young, healthy people. We have wars which kill people. We have strange, sick people who go into homes and murder people. There are lots of people--young, healthy, vibrant people--whose life is of great value to themselves and the community, parents of young children and innumerable people on whom the community depends.
When we come to the end of our life it is really not so important to other people, so why is it that we can take without any effort or struggle all the real killings and the real murders and cruelties to children, and often within families, domestic cruelties, and call that the life we have chosen and the society we want? Yet we cannot choose a society which will permit people who have reached the end of their life, who have nothing more to give and nothing more to gain. Though we speak of having a caring community, with a great majority of the older people, especially when they are not able to see what is happening to them and those who do not have friends, and even those who have family, you will find daughters whose mothers and fathers are in old people's homes jumping up and down at the lack of compassion and care in even some of the best homes.
I recently had a friend who died in Perth. She loved very good music. She had her own private room and her own private music. She had everything. She put classical music on. Every time the nurses came in, they turned it off and put on pop music, which she hated. She had to live out her dying days with that. We are not getting the society we want.
People say we will get rid of people because of money. Money is not a thing we can pass over either, because there is only so much money in public coffers. Perhaps if some of it went to police and roads and things like that we might save a few of the people, instead of giving it to the pharmaceutical companies to keep people, I cannot say alive, but breathing.
I do hope people will learn and gain the ability to say people are
permitted to die under the terminally ill act. Nobody is permitted to kill
them or to murder them; they are permitted to die with compassionate
Senator BOB COLLINS —After consultation with my colleague I have decided to ask, so that we will have an orderly conclusion to this, that all further speakers who wish to speak to join the queues at these three microphones. I will cut off the debate after that, otherwise we will be here in dribs and drabs all night. I do not think anyone in the audience wants that, let alone anyone on this side of the table. So could you please join the queues now, and I will call no further speakers after these people are finished. I now intend to cut the time down from five minutes to four and, if you are too longwinded, I will cut it down from four minutes to three. Thank you very much.
ROHAN BENHAU —My name is Rohan Benhau. Like several people in this audience, I also work in the medical profession, having the misfortune to have spoken to people who have contemplated suicide, who have unsuccessfully attempted it and who have successfully attempted it. Of those people I have seen, they made the choice. I do not agree with suicide, but I believe everybody has that choice, that they choose to do what they choose.
Bearing that in mind, it was the people of the Northern Territory that elected our members to parliament here and who have chosen to accept their decisions in this euthanasia bill. It has been brought forward and passed here in the Territory. I ask the members of the federal parliament to listen to the majority of the people in your electorate and accept their choice for yes or no. Listen to the people or the people may not listen to you next time. Make your choice for their benefit.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Thank you very much. I would ask all the remaining speakers to be as succinct as they can as it is obvious to everyone we are losing our audience at this point in the evening.
JOHN BAILEY —I am the member for Wanguri, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Northern Territory. I was not going to get up and speak, but comments made about the process in the Northern Territory led me to believe that I should get up and make a comment with regard to the role of the Senate and, I believe, what the Northern Territory parliament did.
The Northern Territory parliament had extensive submissions, as has already been said. Approximately 1,200 submissions were studied by parliamentarians. Extensive debate went on, and a decision was made by the elected members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
The issue we have before us now is not one of euthanasia, I believe. I was a supporter of the euthanasia debate. Members of my party also opposed it. They will continue to oppose it within the Northern Territory and will continue to try to get the legislation changed. I will continue to try to support it. That is the role of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
If the federal parliament believes that the federal government has a role in euthanasia, then they should change the law for all of Australia, for all Australians, and not just for Territorians, people who live in the ACT and on Norfolk Island.
It is my belief that if senators want to impose what they believe--that
voluntary euthanasia is not an option for Territorians--then they should
also say it is not an option for the people who live in the states that
they come from. If they can't do that, then they should not be making
Territorians second-class citizens.
SUZANNE CAVANAGH —I have lived in the Northern Territory for 44 years and I am very proud to say that I am a Territorian. At the outset, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am an absolute opponent of euthanasia and I make no apology for the fact that I have strong religious beliefs that tell me that it is absolutely wrong. That is my choice to have those beliefs.
This Senate committee is actually not just looking at the issue of euthanasia; they are also looking at the constitutional implications for the Northern Territory. I suppose I find myself in a very strange position: I do not support euthanasia but I certainly do not support what Kevin Andrews and the House of Representatives have done in Canberra. I, for once in my life, agree with John Bailey.
The facts of the matter are these. This legislation was passed in the Northern Territory in 1995. The federal parliament had it within its power to overturn that legislation, as per our self-government act, within six months. None of them had the guts to do it and we all know why they did not--they were facing a federal election and they did not want this sort of issue muddying the waters, so they compromised their consciences way back there. So I wonder if we should believe their consciences are what they say they are today.
Just to go on from what John Bailey was saying, I agree with him absolutely. To just single out the territories of Australia and say that in the territories of Australia you cannot have euthanasia but do absolutely nothing to make other Australians fall in with us to me is an absolute insult to us as individuals and as free-thinking Australians.
The other matter I would like to raise, which someone mentioned earlier, is that they know they cannot overturn state legislation unless they call on external affairs powers. That is the only way they could overturn legislation, as they have in the last few years in Tasmania. So if South Australia proceeds with their legislation for euthanasia, Australia is stuck with it because there is nothing they can do about it. But what they can do is introduce some sort of legislation that circumvents that and make all Australians fall under the same mantle as they are trying to make us now.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Before I call on the next speaker, could I please ask people not to keep coming up and joining the ends of the queues. They keep on getting longer. Senators are quite used to going all night, but it is going to turn into a very dreary exercise for everyone in the room if we are going to keep doing it. I really was serious about what I said. Can those people who are in the queues now stay there and, if anybody joins in, could somebody dob them in? After the people in the queues have finished, we will conclude tonight's proceedings.
Ms WENDY JACOB —I have been a resident in the Territory for 17 years. I have been interested tonight to hear a lot of views expressed which have echoed and reiterated things which have come up in discussions, mostly in my workplace. I seem to have heard a couple of things a number of times. People are perhaps trying to simplify the issues by either saying it is simply a matter of personal choice or it is simply a matter of valuing life.
I value life. I would like to preserve life and I would like to nurture life. I also value personal choice. I would like to nurture personal choice and I would like to preserve personal choice. I think if we look at the democracy that we live in they are two essential elements. It is not an either-or situation. We have a democracy which values life and which values personal choice. That is why it is a democracy.
I think there is no easy answer to a decision or an issue like this. I think the Territory has taken the issue and tried to work with a very difficult situation. It has tried to live by those two values. They are two values that I do not think are mutually exclusive. I think they are two essential values, and I think the Territory and the people of the Territory have come to a very difficult decision. I think it is a complicated decision. It is not simple. These are not simple issues.
There will be lots of different individual cases. Individual people will
make individual choices. I could quote personal stories about people who
were denied choices--people who tried to make choices and were not able to.
I think we should really look at the fact that democracy is about a lot of
values, a lot of things. Making a democracy work is about trying to make
those values and beliefs work together. I think that is what the Northern
Territory legislation for voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill is
trying to do, and that is why I support it very strongly.
TOM KIELY —I think that the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act is an atrocious act. It is bad law and it is dangerous. It does not afford protection to the people who are most at risk--the frail, the elderly and the most vulnerable. The fact that the Territory Legislative Assembly had an opportunity to repeal it and did not do so I think has put their authority at risk. There is no doubt that the assembly has subordinate legislation under the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act. The Senate has the power and I think a duty to overturn bad law.
You, Senator Collins, are on record as having said that you support the right of the Territory--I think you even said `unto death'--to make their own laws even if they be bad laws. That was on a drivetime ABC radio program one evening. I think the job of politicians is to make good laws for the good order, peace and good government of the communities that they represent--not for their own egos. If the NT parliament gets a little egg on their face, no harm will be done--life will go on, Shane Stone will not resign and in a year's time it will all be forgotten, just like the Tasmanian dams and the other bits and pieces.
Please, senators, overturn this bad law because it is bad law and because you have a duty to the citizens of Australia. We are not just Territorians. I have been here since 1974. Patriotism should not be the last refuge of a scoundrel. I do not want to be a scoundrel, and I will not be one. There is all this tripe about Territorians, Territorians, Territorians. We are all human beings. Overturn the legislation. Protect human beings and set an example for the rest of the world--the world that is watching you. Thank you very much.
WARREN SMITH —For almost 13 years I have worked in domiciliary care looking after HIV positive people. I have seen a number of people die, including my lover and best friend. Both of them chose to suicide to stop their suffering. I felt the strong pain from their going. Even though I did not like them doing it, I support their right to do it. I believe that the government should allow people access to a legal means instead of those people putting themselves and their friends at risk when they have to make a decision like this.
—I fully support voluntary euthanasia. I chose to
be here. I chose to be born. I believe that everybody chose to be here. Let
us face it: if you did not choose to be here, you should not have swum so
fast--and to say it was dark is no excuse. If I was so sick that I had no
hope for the future and I was in pain and I was putting my family through
pain, since I chose to be here I would like to have the choice to be able
to end my life the way I choose to. I am not asking anybody else to do the
same. If you do not believe in it, do not choose it for yourself--but do
not take away the right for us to choose for ourselves since we all chose
to be here in the first place. Thank you very much for your time.
KEN WU —I was born in the Territory and I have just come back from down south where I attended university. I found out our intelligence and education system is just as good as system any down south and in some areas much better. We run rings around some of the southern students, so I think our politicians are just as good as anybody else.
This euthanasia debate, especially the arguments of the opponents, reminds me very much of the debate about heart transplants and things like that. They are very similar. The opponents then were saying `You are interfering with the right of natural death' and they were arguing that people were going to be murdered for organs. It is a similar approach that is being taken to this: creating hysteria and fear in people's minds. If you look at heart transplants today, no-one seems to care; it is accepted as a normal thing. What is going to happen is that in 20 years from now when other states have it, other countries will look on this debate and say, `What was that all about?' It just seems to be a natural progression of humanity.
DAVID SANDERSON —I am from the Northern Territory. When I was 21 my mother threw a party for me. Unfortunately my father was dead, he could not contribute. She gave me the key to the house and she said, `That key is also a key to life and it is your responsibility from here on in. Any decision you take is on your head.' I would call on all of you to keep that particular little gift from my mother in mind when you go back to the Senate and you vote on this particular bill.
I would also ask Senator McGauran, Senator Ferris and Senator McKiernan to consider this. In your states you make laws for your good government. How would you feel if a duly given power under the constitution was taken away from you? That is what you are doing here in the Northern Territory. If you take away from us the power to make this law, which was given to us under self-government, then you are doing us a great disservice in the name of democracy. Quite clearly, this power was not withheld by the federal parliament when they gave us self-government in the Northern Territory. They specifically excluded certain areas but health was not one of them. You specifically gave us the power to make laws about health in the Northern Territory. Thank you for your time.
GERRY WOOD —I agree with the gentleman down the back who spoke about the Dutch situation. I am opposed to euthanasia. One of the saddest things about this whole debate is that it has been going on for so long and it has divided our community. There are friends here that are absolutely 180 degrees opposing one another and it is one of the saddest things I have found in the Territory. But be that as it may, it does not stop me from saying what I feel I should say.
Some people criticise other people for being God botherers or Christians and say they should not bring in their religious beliefs but, if you look around Australia today, what group looks after the dying? It is the God botherers, the hospices. When the Northern Territory introduced this legislation, it had two nurses, one part-time doctor in Darwin and one bed in Alice Springs. That was the total palliative care. Marshall Perron's idea was to bring in the last resort before we even tried the first resort, and that to me is a proper shame.
The second thing I would like to say is that you gentlemen from the Senate are involved in making laws. For instance, suppose you had a law about domestic violence and you knew that a lot of women or partners get bashed up, sexually and physically abused. In a minority of cases, one of those partners will kill their partner. Do you go down the path of making a law which says it is okay to kill that person? You do not. You do not make a law for that exception.
What you do is leave that up to the courts to decide. You do not break the basic principle of `Thou shalt not kill', which is a fundamental principle of law, and that is exactly what euthanasia has done. It has taken a small part of a difficult area and decided to make a law about it. As that gentleman said, it is a discriminatory law. We have made it for people who are dying and in pain. So what happens to the poor people who are in pain all their life and not going to die? You have discriminated against them--they are not allowed to have it. A 17-year-old has to wait until they are 18 years old. You are discriminating against them. Is pain no worse for a young person, or a person that is healthy? Why is it just for the person that dies? I see that that is where it broadens. The principle may be to keep it very narrow, but I think if it is challenged it will spread out. It is a sad day.
On the last point about the Senate overriding Territory laws, I am
afraid I believe, as does John Anderson, the National Party Deputy Leader,
who came here recently, that it is a matter of which morality: a higher
morality? I believe euthanasia is a higher morality than the issue of
states rights and I believe therefore you should overturn those rights. I
am a proud Territorian but I will not stand and support a Territory based
on a law which really gives us no foundation. If we have no leaders who
will support it, I think it will be a sorry state.
Mr MACMICHAEL —I am going to declare myself. I am the chairman of the Darwin Branch of the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party and I am a ticket holder. I represent a branch of about 150 members of the Territory community based around Darwin and we obviously, as a party, have not yet had,--and I do not think we will have--a full-on debate about the moral issues or otherwise of the legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. It was a private member's bill introduced by a private member, albeit a very long serving minister of the parliament and a very highly respected member of the Territory community and someone that the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party has great admiration for.
As a consequence of that private member's legislation, the division and the debate has reached the stage where in the precincts of this new Parliament House 380-odd Territorians are in fact demonstrating their right as Territorians to maturely discuss the issues of the Territory and its right to govern.
One of the things that I particularly did put forward in this submission--which the honourable senators, I hope, amongst the 14,000 documents will have reference to, but I would like to just make a comment--is that for years the Northern Territory has been trying to develop its constitution and progress it constitutionally. Thousands and thousands of Territorians have contributed to the country, and the thing that is probably one of the great angsts amongst Territorians is that, if the Andrews bill is carried through the Senate and the legislation in the Territory is overturned, that is a great setback for Territorians in the Northern Territory, not in the other territories, who are working towards statehood and have been doing so for 18 years since self-government, and who particularly are hoping to be able to demonstrate through the maturity of its parliaments that we might be able to be able to be slotted in in the year 2001 to achieve the final result of becoming a state with the equal rights that other Australians have.
I think that one of the things we are capable of showing you in this public forum tonight is that the Northern Territory is politically mature and it is our Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. It is in our backyard; we are the people who need to live with it. If we have got it wrong, we should be the ones to correct it. If we do not agree with what our elected members of our Legislative Assembly have done within the convention of the Westminster system then we should show our result at the ballot box and let it all be done within the Territory under the constitutional convention under which we were given self-government 18 years ago. I do not believe that in their sincerity of purpose the people here this evening will want to see the Andrews bill carried and the state that we have been fighting for for over a century lost.
I want to make it very clear that I also have very private and strong
views about the moral issues of euthanasia and great compassion and feeling
for the many things that have been said around this room tonight. But I
have a stronger compassion to know that my own children, who were born and
have been with me in the Territory and are part of 30 years service to the
community, are going to have a state in the future with equal rights among
LUCY JONES —I am a Territorian of 13 years. I believe euthanasia should be legalised because it is a choice. If you have a terminal disease, why can't you die by euthanasia if you are in pain? If you don't believe in it, don't use it. I don't say you have to use it. Thank you.
ADINA STANDISH —I am a Territorian and many generations of my family have been Territorians. I would like know why it is that in a political sense we are treated as second-class citizens of Australia. I voted for members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and, if the Senate overrides their decision, my vote was a waste of time and in fact the Legislative Assembly is shown to be obsolete. I do believe that this is not right. My decision to live in the Territory should not disadvantage me as an Australian. The Andrews bill does: it says that because I do not reside in a state I don't count as a full Australian citizen.
Senator BOB COLLINS —The next speaker is in that most fortunate of positions of having the last word.
CAROL ATKINSON —I think it is unfortunate. I am also a Territorian. I am actually entering into this debate on the euthanasia side rather than on the issue of the political process, which I will not go into.
I have been in a position of being a registered nurse in an oncology and haematology unit where many people have died. Of those people, what I learnt was that some would have chosen to exercise their choice through this bill; others would not have. That did not mean that not all of them suffered. They all did. With the decisions in their death, the way they faced up to it, all of those people were very active in their death. However, those who would have been able to choose to take this opportunity and use this bill are being incredibly active; they are not running away from their decisions about their death. They would have made that choice in what was at that stage a very high quality palliative care situation. I don't know what decision I would make in their situation; what I would like to see is that I would have that choice.
I would also like to say, as many others before me have said, that not everybody has to exercise that choice. It is there for you, should you wish to access it, and not otherwise. It is not forced on you. I respect other people's religious and cultural beliefs and I would like them to respect mine. That is all I would like to say.
Senator BOB COLLINS —Folks, can I bring this debate to a conclusion tonight by saying two quick things. I know that Grant also wants to say a few words. The first is this. Our guests here tonight, the senators from interstate, are here for the formal hearings of the Senate committee tomorrow. There was absolutely no requirement on any of them to be present here tonight. This was very much something that Grant and I established. So I know I speak on behalf of every one of you in thanking them for their courtesy and interest.
Lastly--and I am sure I speak on behalf of everyone of my Senate colleagues--can I just say that I would certainly as a Territorian like to thank you all, irrespective of your position on this issue. The fact that you turned up here tonight in a standing room only situation I know has brought home to everybody in the Senate the depth of feeling--whatever that feeling is--that is here in the Territory.
Can I also finally thank everyone here tonight for the quality of what
was said and for the tolerance and courtesy that was shown to the opinions
of others here.
Senator TAMBLING —Ladies and gentlemen, can I second Bob's comments tonight. It has been a real privilege to have acted as a co-host with Bob Collins for this forum. I join with him in thanking my colleagues. The fact that you've had a number of senators that have had to sit here on their hands tonight and say nothing is quite incredible.
I invite any of you who would like to follow the debate to hear some of it tomorrow. The hearings will start at 8.30 in the morning. Shane Stone is the first witness to appear and then there are a number of witnesses right through the day until about 6 p.m. Naturally, the senators will be probing and asking questions.
I also thank so many of you who have made these excellent written submissions. As I said, the secretariat have informed us that when the first half were analysed--that was when they got to about 7,000 nationally--there were 300 from the Northern Territory. So there are about 600 written submissions that you and your friends made right throughout the Northern Territory. They were invaluable.
Can I also thank the 51 people who spoke tonight. I have kept notes, and there are different categories and different break-ups. It is fascinating in that respect. I would like to be a bit political and really add to some of the comments that were made about our own maturity and about our own community and the points and issues we want to state. I hope that the message to my colleagues was that this will be an example of what they could have in a forum like this. Anywhere else in Australia it would be a very similar debate.
Can I also express thanks for the fact that there was no verbal contribution tonight from Marshall Perron, Philip Nitschke, Bishop Collins or Creed Lovegrove. They have all been here and they have all been very patient. They are all major players in this debate and they will have their turn tomorrow when they are probably going to be put on the mat in a much more difficult way.
Again, thank you very much. It has been an honour to have hosted this forum. Please tell your friends that did not get in the door--and we are complimented by that--that unfortunately there are regulations and rules that permit certain numbers in certain rooms. Thank you very much.
Forum concluded at 10. 22 p.m.