On September 15 and 22, Second Reading speeches were delivered by all the Members of the Legislative Council. At the conclusion of these speeches, Mike Gaffney made a closing speech. At the end of his speech the MLCs voted for the bill to be read a second time and for it to proceed into the Committee stage. In this stage each of the 144 clauses of the bill will be analysed and possibly amended. This process is expected to take place over two days on Tuesday, October 13 and on either October 27 or November 10. If a majority of MLCs vote for the amended bill (the third reading stage) it will then go to the House of Assembly for debate.
A summary of the Second Reading speeches are provided below. For the full coverage of this debate in Hansard click here .
Spoke for 2 hours on the background for the bill and the detail of the bill.
The Honourable Ruth Forrest said the bill was the most challenging piece of public policy she had considered in her 15 years in the upper house.
She said public discourse over assisted suicide had been driven by fear which was, at times, rational. Ms Forrest said there were very few instances where pain and suffering cannot be mitigated. She supported an inquiry into why there were so many bad deaths being spoken about. She saw this as a failing of the health system. She said she was concerned that consultation with medical bodies had not been broad enough. Ms Forrest said assisted suicide was not the only way for a person to achieve a dignified death. “That is so far from the truth, it’s ridiculous,” she said. She said that some people saw assisted suicide as a better form of death over natural death.
Ms Forrest foreshadowed she would move amendments to the bill
The Honourable Leonie Hiscutt opened by stating she felt that opposing sides of the debate have been disrespectful to the other. Throughout her speech Ms Hiscutt emphasised her overall uneasiness about assisted suicide. As a farmer Hiscutt has had to make the choice whether she should euthanise an animal. While she very much loves her cat and dog, Hiscutt stated that we are talking about people not animals; that there is a difference. Ms Hiscutt also highlighted that medical research is constantly getting closer to discover new cures. One example given was the recent discovery led by 25-year old Australian, Cira Duffey. That bee poison could be used to treat some breast cancers. In light of this, Ms Hiscutt questioned what impact would it have on a terminally ill person’s family, if they had elected for VAD the day before a cure was found? Ms Hiscutt shared her efforts to find out what her constituents really felt about the issue. She found there was an overwhelming support for voluntary assisted dying. Despite her uneasiness she will give her consent for the Bill to move to the committee stage.
The Honourable Jo Palmer made her maiden speech a few hours before her speech on this bill. In it she shared how her Christian faith has shaped her views on the matter prior to her election campaign. Her opinions have been strongly challenged by the views of constituents as she talked to them on their doorsteps. Ms Palmer spoke of her experience with her father during his lengthy terminal illness. She shared how at aged 11, he pleaded with her to help him end his life. In her mid-teens her father thanked her for walking away. She said “years later, this would have been the wrong decision”. However, on reflection Ms Palmer felt that people should have the choice to access assisted suicide. She supports the Bill but believed amendments are critical. One area of concern is including children in the review process. She strongly stated this is not needed. Palmer stated that her own children are not legally adults until they are 18. Therefore, they should not have the choice opt for assisted suicide.
The Honourable Rosemary Armitage supports in principle but would have preferred it was a Government Bill. Ms Armitage is concerned about the process of this particular Bill. That there has been a lack of consultation, especially with medical experts. Ms Armitage will push that children are removed from the review process in clause 142.
The Honourable Meg Webb was the most supportive of the Bill. Webb attacked opponents calling it voluntary assisted ‘suicide’. She felt this was mean spirited and referring to letter sent by the Attorney General that it is not so as VAD is choice between two deaths. Other Members of Parliament also shared this view. While Ms Webb won’t be pushing for any amendments in regards to what the Bill outlines as ‘suffering’, she felt it was a technicality and not necessary as it distracts the debate. In her mind if a person met all the other criteria they would be suffering.
The Honourable Rob Valentine strongly supported the Bill, however has some questions to ask during the committee stage. Mr Valentine shared his own experience with the death of is mother in palliative care. His father opting for her to have a natural death, her food source was gradually removed. She took two-weeks to die. Mr Valentine felt that assisted suicide already was occurring and that it would better to implement some regulation around the practice.
The ALPs Sarah Lovell, Jo Siejka and Josh Willie also expressed their support for the Bill.
On September 22:
The Honourable Tania Rattray, opened her speech by stating that euthanasia (unlike she previously had thought) has been debated at different times in human history. She provided Socrates and John Keats as key historical figures who discussed the practice of euthanasia. Ms Rattray’s prime concern with the Bill is the safety of vulnerable people. Ms Rattray referred to the finding in both Oregon and Victoria that the prime reasons for people choosing voluntary assisted suicide was due to loss of autonomy and lifestyle choices rather than pain. Her interpretation of statistics is the palliative care system is working effectively. She also upholds that it is not ‘suicide’, that the person is choosing between two deaths. Ms Rattray will support the Bill to the committee stage, describing it as “sensitive and for some life changing legislation”.
The Honourable Jane Howlett proceeded to open the debate by questioning why is there is such an urgency to rush this Bill. Ms Howlett said “In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, there are higher priorities that we as parliament should be dealing with”. Ms Howlett also questioned why they should support a Bill that required a number of amendments. She stated that this Bill is not a product of the government but a single member of the Legislative Council. That there has been little community or medical consultation. Ms Howlett claims that the fundamental flaw of this Bill is that it enshrines suicide, highlighting that “the demand for mental health services has increased in our community”. Ms Howlett also raised concerns in regards to elderly abuse. Stating that the elderly feel like they are a burden and they can be exploited. Ms Howlett concluded by stating that supporting this Bill on the basis of principle will only negate checks and balances. Ms Howlett will not vote for this Bill in its current form.
The Honourable Bastien Seidel opened by stating that the time has come to legislate assisted suicide in Tasmania. Mr Bastien said as a young doctor he sought to provide the best medical treatment available but over time realised that despite his best efforts he was not able to meet the needs of his patients; that they did not always have a good death. Mr Bastien shared a story of a young patient who was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Once all her options ran out they moved to palliative care. Mr Bastien said her life dragged on, unable to talk and struggled to swallow and sleep. One day she wrote a note requesting that he “finish it off”. Mr Bastien stated that the clinical team struggled and that he struggled. Now every time he sees her children and husband he feels guilty that he was not able to provide her with a good death. Mr Bastien stated that “prolonging death is not prolonging life”. That there is no need for an inquiry or a review as all that needs to be said has been spoken. Mr Bastien will support the Bill.
The Honourable Ivan Dean shared the years of his inner struggle with the idea of euthanasia. That during his times as a Police Officer and member of the Australian Army he has witness lots of death; some dying in very difficult situations. Mr Dean raised concerns about elderly abuse. He shared that as a police officer he has found homocide cases difficult to investigate, the key problem being the key witness was dead. Despite the bill’s offence provisions it will be difficult to completely prevent criminal action. Mr Dean shared that his turning point in support for euthanasia was after the recent death of his dog Alfie, who was euthanised. Mr Dean described that Alfie had a peaceful and, in a way, beautiful death. Mr Dean will support the Bill.
For the full coverage of this debate in Hansard click here .