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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9406


Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (17:46): I'm going to try and keep my comments brief. I am and have always been opposed to the state or, indeed, humankind being involved in the termination of the lives of human beings. It matters not whether it's abortion, euthanasia or, of course, capital punishment. As someone who served as a detective for 16 years and had been involved in the investigation of many heinous crimes, you would have thought that at some stage I would have converted my thinking to support the idea of capital punishment. I do not. In fact, I had quite a unique experience as a detective in that I was appointed to study at the FBI behavioural science facility at their academy south of Washington, where I spent four months looking at serial killers. Every day, I was confronted with a diet of slides and reports and photographs and videos of crime scenes where the victims were, more often than not, women or children and where the circumstances were heinous beyond description in most cases. You would think that an experience like that would bring an individual to consider capital punishment as being an appropriate punishment in particular circumstances.

But it did not because, at the same time, research had been conducted—and I took a great interest in it—in a number of cases in the United States, particularly in that jurisdiction, where it was determined that people who had been killed through capital punishment had been wrongly convicted. They were innocent people. The state created a rule, or a law in that case, to take their lives as a result of a process. So what it said to me—and I am not for one second trying to compare those circumstances to the circumstances of patients who find themselves in most difficult circumstances—is that human kind is not developed enough, nor do I think it will ever be, to make decisions around the lives of people, including some of the people themselves who are confronted with circumstances where they make that decision. We have a situation in Belgium where euthanasia is lawful, even to the extent where parents are able to make a decision on behalf of their children. In one cited case—and I place on the record that I have not tested the references—there were two young girls from one family who, through a genetic condition, were born deaf. Through that genetic condition—these children were twins of 12 years of age—they were going blind. A decision was taken by the parents—I can only imagine that it was perhaps in consultation with the children—that the two children, who were otherwise totally healthy, would be euthanised. I can't imagine the sort of pressure on a family like that, including the two young ladies and their parents, in having to make such a decision. But I would never support a law made by the state that would allow those sorts of decisions to have been taken.

I suspect that there are hundreds and hundreds of occasions each month in our country where, with the use of palliative care, people's lives come to an end perhaps earlier than they might otherwise do if acute medical attention were continued. In fact, I've had the experience myself. My late wife passed away after she had an aneurysm that left her with no prospect whatsoever of living without the aid of a life support system. Events there, without me particularising them, brought her life to a close where perhaps she may have continued with, might I say, no life at all on a life support system. So I think that in some instances, in extreme cases, our society is also, in effect, through the withdrawal of medical care or continued medical care, allowing people to die with dignity when they are way beyond any prospect of help or recovery.

I feel very, very strongly about this matter. I feel for the people who find themselves in these circumstances. But if this parliament were to be confronted with legislation like this on a national level, we would need to go very, very, very carefully. There is a very large body of research around the implications of these things. Mine is a practical position, but as a practising Catholic I am often guided by faith in these matters. I would urge very, very steady and careful consideration of these matters. I remain satisfied that each of us, to the extent that we can, will become a scholar on the topic. Many people will share my view that humanity does not have the capacity to put in place the protections that would prevent assisted suicide from taking the lives of people whose prospects were not quite as the seemed—people who perhaps had a future—through misdiagnosis and a whole range of those issues. I urge colleagues to think very carefully about it. I cannot support the motion.