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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1245


Senator HINCH (Victoria) (17:02): Twenty-five years ago, I sat alongside my mother's bed and watched her die. She was under palliative care. If she had been a dog and an RSPCA inspector had walked into that room, I would have been arrested and charged with cruelty to animals. She weighed about 30 kilograms, if not 25 kilograms, and looked like a Biafran refugee. I think this law has to be amended. You do have the right. The movie said, 'Whose life is it anyway?' and that is the exact way that I feel about this.

The original successful attempt by the Liberal government to meddle in the affairs of the Northern Territory government, the ACT and Norfolk Island—that bill was introduced by Kevin Andrews, but it had Prime Minister Howard's grubby fingerprints all over it. It was done to stop Philip Nitschke, who has campaigned for decades over this and I have supported him for about 30 years. You do have the right to die. Some people get offended by the term 'voluntary euthanasia'. They prefer to say 'dying with dignity', and I can see the merit in that.

Last year, I attended the Victorian government's upper house investigation and committee hearing into dying with dignity. Their legislation means they could be the first state in Australia to make it legal. You have Dr Rodney Syme, in Melbourne, who challenged the police and the government to charge him. He has admitted that he has helped people die. He has been honest and he has been brave. I say, 'Doctors do it all the time', but they do not actually. It is the doctors who tell the nurses what they should do. They tell people to say goodbye—'nudge-nudge, wink-wink; go home'—and mum or dad dies mysteriously through the night. This has to be changed even if the Victorian law does come in—and I think it will come in, even if it is too restrictive.

I know of a young man who sent me an email just this afternoon. He will not mind me using his name. His name is Jay Franklin. He has been in pain for years and years. He will not be able to take his own life. He will not be able to access nembutal and take his own life, because he is not considered to be terminally ill even though he spends so much time in hospital—most of his life has been spent in hospital—and that is why that rule is too restrictive. But just start it off; take it step by step. If we can repeal that restriction on Norfolk Island, the Northern Territory and the ACT it will be a start. This should be national legislation. Premier Dan Andrews has raised the issue that Victoria is in danger of becoming sort of like a suicide tourism state, to put it very crudely and very bluntly. But people should not have to go to another state. They should not have to go anywhere. It is my body and if I decided that I wanted to kill myself, then I would do that.

About five or six years ago, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was told by doctors that I would be dead within 12 months unless I could get a liver transplant. Luckily, I did get one, although I was very close to dying before that. Afterwards, I held my old liver in my hand and I asked the pathologist how long he thought—I said, 'Do you see many as bad as that?' He said, 'Usually at autopsies.' I said: 'Okay. How long do you reckon I had?' He said, 'Well, now I've got it out and had a good look at it, I reckon about two weeks.' My transplant surgeon, Dr Bob Jones, said it was even worse than that. He said: 'Your liver operation was down to 20 per cent. If it had got down to 18 per cent, we would have taken you off the transplant list', and I would not be here. So some of you can blame Bob Jones for the fact that I am here and causing you problems.

On a serious note, it must be repealed. It is my life; it is my body. When I was told, 'You've got less than 12 months to live,' I decided it was my quality of life, in my opinion. If my quality of life got so bad that I did not want to do it anymore, I made plans, and I told friends and family, that I would take myself out. I would say, 'Thanks for the loan of the hall,' and I would depart, but it would be done on my terms and at my time. The problem here for some people is that they fear that, if they get motor neurone disease, they will not even be able to pick up a pill even if they have access to Nembutal, even if they know a friendly vet. That is the thing, or you get to the stage where you no longer feel confident that you can do anything. You are stranded in your bed.

I went to that Victorian upper house inquiry and, as I walked in the door, there was a Catholic priest in the witness box, and he looked like a priest from central casting. He had the white hair, the white beard and the big, booming voice. As I walked in the door, the first words I heard him say were, 'We can all die a happy and holy death,' as he talked about the merits of palliative care. I thought: 'How dare you? You sit up there and say, "We can all die a happy and holy death."' It does not work that way. My poor mother was lying there. She was a very proud woman and a very private woman, and she was lying there on her bed with a pillow between her legs because she was incontinent. She could not eat. She could not drink. For several months she could only have ice-cream because of the thrush in her throat that had happened from all the chemo and the radiation. I thought: 'This is not living, and my mother would not want to be that way. She would have wanted to have gone away quietly and died with some dignity.'

So I appeal to the Senate today. It is not your business. It is the people's business to say, 'Hey, I've decided I've had enough, I can't take it anymore and I'm going to shuffle off this mortal coil, as they say.' So I would put my pennyworth in here and just say that we should consider this very seriously. This should go for the two territories, and there should be a new national dying with dignity bill.