Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passes first vote in Lower House

28 May 2021

This week the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed its first vote in the House Assembly.



Although I personally don’t believe in euthanasia, I am of the view that the majority of our electorate is in favour and I cast my vote accordingly.

 There’s a bit left to go in this Bill and we return to debating it in a fortnight’s time.

 Below is the Hansard transcript of my speech: 

Mr ELLIS (Narungga) (21:25): I rise this evening to place on the record my position on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill that is before us this evening. I will begin as I begin all conscience vote issues by clearly outlining that on these votes I do my absolute best to cast my vote according to the will of the electorate. There are obvious difficulties in measuring that, and inevitably there will be people who believe that I have misread the sentiment, but voters in Narungga should rest assured that I will do my level best to cast my vote in the way in which they expect me to.

To date, three and a bit years into my first term of parliament, I have had the fortune of not being put in the position where my personal views on a subject matter are divergent from those views that I believe the electors of Narungga hold. That, I think, is a good thing and evidence that I am an appropriate representative for that seat. However, unfortunately, I think that run might come to an end as this bill progresses.

To be clear, I am fundamentally opposed to euthanasia. I am of the view that human life should be sacrosanct in our lawmaking and should be held above all else as irreplaceably precious, and I am sincerely concerned that euthanasia, or voluntary assisted dying, considerably weakens the value we place on human life.

I firmly believe, personally, that it is impossible to completely safeguard legislation permitting VAD, and that inevitably, as I believe has happened in other jurisdictions, there will be instances of abuse. However, in placing that position on the record, I do acknowledge the valiant attempt to safeguard it by way of the 70-odd safeguards in this particular bill. Further, and finally, I believe it is absolutely inevitable that this is a slippery slope that will result in liberalised VAD laws in quite a short time.

During my time as a candidate in 2017 we had this question posed to us as candidates at that point, and I made it quite clear then that I was opposed to euthanasia. Feedback from at least one crowd member, who was not particularly shy about sharing his views, was that I must never have gone through something that might open my eyes to the virtue of voluntary assisted dying or euthanasia. I can report to this house now that that is completely untrue.

My grandpa, to whom my brothers and I were extremely close, went through a horrific ordeal at the end of his life. I recall it as being horrific, degrading and incredibly sad, and I am sure that I was sheltered from the absolute worst of it. When I was younger again, another close family relation suffered through a prolonged experience of Alzheimer's, which again was truly horrific. Both circumstances were extraordinarily difficult for our family to deal with.

Despite both of those experiences, I maintain my personal view on state-sanctioned suicide, or whatever name we choose to give it. However, in my current estimation, my electorate is in favour of this bill and, as I am only here because of them, I am leaning towards supporting this bill in its current form.

Despite my personal reservations, I currently believe that the majority of our community are of the view that VAD provides a more humane and dignified end of life for our loved ones. I currently believe that our community, on balance, believe that the trauma experienced by a family at losing their loved ones should be mitigated by voluntary assisted dying. However, I do have some concerns about this specific bill that I would like to place on the record, despite my presumed support for it.

It is my view that there are a significant number of people agitating for this initiative who will find—and perhaps they already know—that this bill will not provide the answer to what they perceive is their problem. By way of example, it is my view that a substantial number of people who advocate for this bill do so on the basis that they do not want to see their loved one suffer through dementia or Alzheimer's in the same way that my close family relation did.

On my reading of this bill, that will not be available. Put simply, in a doctor's estimation someone suffering with dementia seeking VAD must be between six and 12 months from death, and for someone suffering from dementia who is that close to death it would be extremely difficult, in my view, for them to possess the requisite decision-making capacity to make that request.

I do not want to put words into his mouth, but I believe that new upper house member, Robert Simms, confirmed that view in his contribution on 5 May about the extraordinarily difficult family circumstances he found himself in, and he acknowledged that in that case this bill would not have helped their situation. That being the case, in my view at least, if this act passes it will be a very short period of time before we, or whoever is populating the parliament at that time, will be asked to review this act with the idea of making it more accessible to more people.

I have genuine significant concerns that this bill will be the very thin wedge of a rather significantly wide wedge. I note of course that there is a mandated review period in this bill, but I suspect that it will not be that long before the lobbying for a review occurs. It is my view, and it will remain my view, that unless there is a seismic shift in the demographic within my community voters in Narungga do not want a free-for-all euthanasia program.

The AMA have articulated their position statement that there are real practical concerns about how doctors will interact with this scheme. I do not need to restate the AMA position. Everyone here will have read it and formed their own view, but there are genuine concerns about the way in which doctors prescribe palliative care, in particular how VAD must never compromise the provision of end-of-life or palliative care.

I also worry about a key condition of this bill being that doctors need to diagnose the length of time that their patient could have left. It is my view that this is an inarguably difficult task for doctors to perform and that we would not have to search particularly hard to find diagnoses that have been proven either incorrect or dramatically misjudged in time, despite the doctors' best intentions experience. In my view, we are risking taking years off people's lives by relying on such difficult diagnoses and we are possibly risking preventing recovery.

I also take issue with this bill explicitly stating that voluntary assisted dying is not suicide. When we take away terms such as 'euthanasia' and 'voluntary assisted dying', which are designed to make it seem more pleasant, we are left with state-sanctioned suicide, which I believe is what the process truly is. This is not late-stage refusal of treatment. We are not merely boosting painkillers. This is the voluntary consumption of a substance that is intended to kill.

With those few concerns, I will begin to conclude by again stating my personal opposition to euthanasia; however, on the basis that my electorate support it, I am leaning towards voting in favour. I have tremendous friends in the electorate who will be disappointed with this decision, friends who have been supportive in both getting me into this place and the way I conduct myself in it and who I hope will continue to be extremely supportive. These are people whose counsel I hold dear and who I hope to continue to rely upon. To them I say that I am only casting my vote in this way because I honestly believe that it is the will of the electorate.

I need to make a quick special mention of a constituent of mine Bec Rowan, who recently launched a petition to demonstrate community sentiment predominantly in the Copper Coast Council region. Bec succeeded in securing well over 700 signatures, which is a tremendous effort for one person, one community volunteer. Congratulations to Bec, and I thank her sincerely for her help in guiding the way for me.

I can also report that the vast majority of constituents who have contacted my office over the journey report their preference to be in favour of this legislation. Those two factors, in addition to my many, many hours in the community over the past few years, have led me to where we are today. I have to report that I will be voting in favour of amendments that strengthen this bill, especially those that I anticipate will be moved by the member for Davenport around institutional conscientious objections and reporting obligations and against amendments that will liberalise this bill.

Despite that being the case, I suspect that this bill will convincingly secure the numbers to pass the house. As I said, I will cast my vote in accordance with what the community expects of me and I look forward to partaking in the committee stage to make sure I can do the best possible job of doing that.