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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1061


Senator WATSON(6.05) —The report addresses the question of the right of terminally ill patients to have access to heroin as a means of relieving pain. It is in no way concerned with the use of heroin by addicts or for other medical purposes. The Human Rights Commission, when examining the issues involved in the medical use of heroin for terminally ill patients, received representations from a number of institutions and individuals involved in the treatment and care of terminally ill people. These sorts of people, who are involved in the hour by hour, day by day management of the intense suffering of cancer and leukaemia patients, who have had to stand by in so many cases and witness the dehumanising process of surgical, medical and radiation procedures and who have had to care for families and loved ones who too share the anxiety, the pain and the suffering of the dying, are convinced that heroin should be made available for use in the pain control of terminally ill patients and that the patients should have the right to decide for themselves how they wish to be treated in the terminal stages of their illness. People in this country have the right to make their own decisions on other medical, social or political questions which affect their own person and future, so they should have the right to have access to or to choose the form of pain relief which is most effective for themselves.

The report raises a number of issues about the rights of terminally ill patients in addition to their rights to adequate pain management. It talks about the patients' right to be fully informed about their illness and the treatment they receive; the right to refuse treatment; the right to privacy; the right to respect for their human dignity, which suggests that they have the right to as normal and full a life as is possible under the circumstances; the right to be protected against all treatment that is of a discriminatory, abusive or degrading nature; and-I emphasise this-the right to die with dignity. If one agrees with the inherent right of the individual to manage his life one must similarly agree with the right of an individual to manage his death if, of course, he has forewarning of this possibility.

Evidence reported in the Commission's report showed that there is no scientific justification for the legal prohibition of the use of heroin for pain management of the terminally ill. Whilst it cannot be shown conclusively that heroin is universally superior to other narcotic medicines, it can be shown that for many patients it is a more effective pain reliever than morphine, which is more widely used, and has relatively no side effects. In fact, heroin has been shown to be two to four times as potent as morphine and it does not impair the mental faculties. I seek leave to continue my remarks later, Mr Deputy President.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The time allotted for the consideration of government papers has expired. In the ordinary course the remaining papers would be eligible to be brought up during consideration of General Business on Thursday. As there will be no General Business on Thursday, I will give an opportunity to senators who wish to do so to move a motion to take note of any of the remaining papers they wish to discuss.