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Thursday, 3 December 1959

Dr EVATT (Hunter) (Leader of the Opposition) . - Although this amendment is in a sense narrow in its scope, it did assume importance in the Senate, where it was dealt with in a helpful and effective way. I should like to read to the committee from page 1926 of the Senate " Hansard ", which indicates the latest medical opinion in relation to epilepsy. It was stated that by the use of modern drugs epilepsy was now capable, in most instances, of being contained. The following opinion, by Sir Charles Symonds, was quoted -

After all this, they will need some encouragement and may fairly be told that there are many cases in which the liability is so slight that it is entirely controlled by medicines and the attacks cease; that if they cease for three or four years they will probably not recur; and, further, that there are many more cases in which, though the attacks continue, they are so infrequent as to interfere very little with the patient's life, and their occurrence is known only to his intimates. It may be explained that the proportion of serious cases is small, and that one person out of every 200 suffers from this malady in some degree.

I was impressed by that statement, and I should imagine that the members of the Senate were impressed. The proposal made by the Attorney-General commends itself to me. The proposal is to agree to the omission of the provision dealing with epilepsy and unsoundness of mind in connexion with nullity. The Attorney-General has been frank enough to state that the situation may be looked at again. If it is looked at again, it can be studied in the light of information of the character to which I have referred, given in the Senate. In a matter of some difficulty, the Senate chose the course that it thought the most modern from the point of view of medicine, and the most humane in all the circumstances. I agree with that.

As honorable members know, we considered this bill and voted on it as a matter of individual responsibility. Although the English royal commission endorsed this formula, the cases that have arisen in England under it, in which a suit for nullity has been successful, are very few in number. I think the right course is being taken, and I support it.

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