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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1060


Senator WALTERS(5.59) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I rise very briefly to congratulate the Human Rights Commission at least on the recommendation it has made in its report entitled 'Human Rights of the Terminally Ill'. I was rather surprised that it was left to the Human Rights Commission to make this recommendation to the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett). The Commission has recommended that heroin be made available to terminally ill patients who cannot obtain effective pain relief through other treatment or drugs. The Commission has recommended that heroin be listed as a pharmaceutical benefit and that its administration by or under the immediate supervision of a medical practitioner be allowed outside hospitals. This would mean that it could be administered to all terminally ill patients who may benefit from the drug. I hope that the Minister will take up this recommendation. It is about time the Government did. Indeed, I am sorry that my Party, when in government, did not take up the recommendation by the Australian Medical Association in 1979 that heroin be made available to patients with severe pain.

I used heroin professionally on others many years ago. It is a wonderful drug for the terminally ill. It relieves pain and keeps patients mentally alert, obviating the need to drug them to the extent that they do not know what is going on. Patients are then able to die with a certain dignity, without the fear of pain and without that dreadful last stage that some of us have witnessed. I believe that the Minister should take up this recommendation very speedily. I think the report makes the need for this very clear when it states:

Chronic pain is perhaps the hardest aspect of a terminal illness that a patient has to cope with, as it seems meaningless as well as endless. It is likely to get worse and the pain can occupy the patient's whole attention, isolating that person from the outside world.

I think that describes the situation very well. Units that will deal with severe pain have been set up. They are expert units which can usually come up with a drug that will be helpful to the patient, but they cannot always come up with a drug that will do the job that we know heroin can do. To deny heroin to terminally ill patients purely because small sections of the community abuse it, I believe, is entirely wrong.

I cannot imagine why the Human Rights Commission tries to use the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or even the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons to bring forward its recommendation. I do not really mind how the Commission does it, as long as the recommendation is taken up by the Minister. I again say that I hope that the Minister who is present in the Senate, Senator Grimes, will ask the Minister for Health to take up that matter as speedily as possible.