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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1060

Senator PETER BAUME(6.03) —I have some sympathy with what Senator Walters has just advanced. My brother died of a malignant disease some years ago. He died in unnecessary pain. Several lessons came out of that. The first was that the medical team was not using available analgesia properly. I have had occasion to talk to some doctors who are specialising in the treatment of the kind of pain to which Senator Walters referred. They are of the view that many patients are not receiving adequate therapy with the drugs other than heroin which are presently available. So there is a problem about present medical practice which relates to the lack of expertise by people of my profession with the drugs which we already have available and which we should be using. That is the first point. Many people could be spared much of the pain to which Senator Walters referred if available therapies were applied more expertly than they are applied at present. Some of my colleagues who are involved in terminal care have even gone so far as to say to me that their patients can be made pain free with available therapy, provided the doctors are inventive enough in the way they use that therapy. That is what they assert.

On the other hand I am always struck by the fact that it seems that in our community the only people who cannot get heroin are the terminally ill. That is the real dilemma. If one wants to go to Kings Cross one can buy heroin.

Senator Reid —And in Canberra.

Senator PETER BAUME —Senator Reid says one can buy it in Canberra. If one wants to go around the back streets one can buy heroin, except if one is terminally ill. I am, in fact, quite torn on this issue. On the one hand, heroin is far too freely available for recreational use. On the other hand, I am not sure that the medical need cannot somehow be met by the means available. One thing I do know is that if heroin did become available medically, whatever the medical benefits, we would have to pay the penalty of some small degree of increased use. I remind Senator Walters that this was the dilemma which faced a Senate committee on which she, Senator Grimes and I served. We had to consider the question of marihuana-trading off costs and benefits whichever way the policies went. So I have some sympathy with what Senator Walters said, but I think the issue is very difficult. I think there are costs whichever way she goes. As I said, I am concerned that the only people in our community who cannot get heroin are those whose needs for analgesia appear to be the greatest.