A bill by Labor legal affairs spokesman Kyam Maher and Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close is set to be voted on by the state’s Upper House next week – the 17th attempt to legalise voluntary euthanasia in South Australia since 1995.
The legislation is based on similar laws in Victoria which have been operating for 18 months, with proponents saying it has 68 separate “safeguards”.
It gives terminally ill people who have been given six months to live the right to die if approved by two separate doctors.
This morning Maher and Close joined five other current or former MPs who have attempted to legalise euthanasia in the past, including former Labor MP John Quirke, former Democrats Leader Sandra Kanck, former Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge, former Labor MP Steph Key and Greens MLC Mark Parnell.
“We have Liberal, Labor, Greens, Democrats here today and I think that’s a show of support for the parliament that this really crosses party lines as an exceptionally important issue,” Maher said.
They were also joined by Lyn Such, the wife of former Independent MP Bob Such, who died from a brain tumour in 2014 at the age of 70.
He made eight attempts to legalise euthanasia during his time in Parliament.
Maher this morning told reporters he believed his Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was the best hope yet of passing euthanasia laws in South Australia, with the most “safeguards”.
“Each of those other times would have seen South Australia as the first state in Australia to have voluntary assisted dying laws,” he said.
“If this attempt is successful, we’ll now be the fourth after Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania.
“We’ve seen a voluntary assisted dying scheme operate in Victoria now for 18 months. Many of the concerns that people had about a scheme haven’t come to fruition and it’s operated exceptionally well in Victoria for 18 months now.”
It’s believed Maher has the numbers for the bill to pass the Upper House – but the bigger challenge will be getting it through the Lower House.
Maher said some MPs who have previously voted against euthanasia have told him they intend to vote for it this time.
“One of the reasons some have given for that is there is a scheme in Victoria that’s operating and operating well and is very heavily protected,” he said.
The last bill, put forward by then-Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge and Labor MP Steph Key, resulted in a deadlock in 2016, with 23 MPs in favour and 23 against.
Then-Speaker Michael Atkinson used his casting vote to knock it out.
“My guess is (this time) it will come down to two or three votes in each chamber as to whether it passes or not,” he said.
Maher said opinion polls showed more than 80 per cent of South Australians supported voluntary euthanasia.
“The ability to give a person the right to die with the dignity in which they led their lives is exceptionally important,” he said.
He said there were many “safeguards” in his legislation.
“You have to be over 18, a resident in South Australia, have been diagnosed by two separate doctors including a specialist in the field in which your condition is in, you have to be diagnosed to be within six months of the end of your life or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition,” he said.
“And then there are all sorts of other safeguards in terms of doctors having to assess mental capacity, doctors are not allowed to raise this with their patient, it has to be patient generated. There are many steps.”
The first attempt to get euthanasia laws through Parliament was in 1995 with a bill introduced by former Labor MP John Quirke.
“I’d seen people who suffered – palliative care just couldn’t help them with it,” he said today.
“I’ve had relatives, my own father, die in circumstances that I think were really not what you want a loved one to go through.
“For me it was an issue that I thought we should have a community debate about. There was overwhelming support in the community… but that didn’t reflect unfortunately into a parliamentary vote.”
Of the latest attempt to legalise euthanasia, Quirke said: “I wish Kyam and the gang here success with it. My original proposal was very similar to the one Kyam has talked about here today with safeguards in it. Unfortunately my proposal didn’t even get to the second reading stage. There was a lot of community angst about it.”
Former Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge said “the most recent bill that went before the parliament was one that was put by Steph (Key) and I – that was a tied vote, 23 all on the third reading”.
“We thought it was an exceptionally comprehensive and safe bill,” he said.
“We just hope that this bill is gong to be supported by more than 50 per cent because we know it’s supported by 80 per cent of South Australians.
“I just hope that every MP in here does what they are elected to do and that is represent their constituents who strongly support this bill.”
Former Labor MP Steph Key, who visited the Netherlands to learn more about euthanasia during her time in Parliament, said “it’s about time that we actually had those changes and those provisions here”.
“Despite the fact the majority of people out there in South Australia support the choice of assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia, the members of parliament have got cold at the last minute and some of them have said they would support legislation but in the end haven’t been courageous enough to do that,” she said.
“My message is to current members of parliament, please listen to what the community has said, what the community view is and give people the choice… of being able to die in dignity.
“It’s about time people got a bit courageous and actually listened to what the community is saying.”
Lyn Such said despite her husband dying of a brain tumour “we never discussed voluntary euthanasia”.
“I know that sounds really weird but I guess what that will say is that if people want to live, people at that stage of their life, they want to live,” she said.
“But if it becomes all too much, they must have that choice.
“Personally I think it’s a bit of an overreach for MPs. I think they should stay right out of it. I think if the rules are there and the laws are there and they’re strong, go for it.
“And I believe there is no slippery slope. It’s a very deeply, personal, intimate stage of your life and it’s really nobody’s business.
“It’s a choice. Like Kyam has said, they’ve had a choice their whole life why stop now and most won’t want to take up that offer.
“It would be another great thing for South Australia. It’s meant to be. It’s the next step. It should be all about compassion.”
Former Democrats Leader Sandra Kanck said “the difference between this bill and my bills is palpable”.
“Physically it’s ten times the size,” she said.
“I thought that at the time I introduced my bill – which was called the Dignity in Dying Bill – that it was almost an outrageous thing to ask people to jump through 14 hoops to get there.
“This bill has 68 hoops and I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to make it any more difficult than that.”
Kanck said it would be “a great day” for South Australia if the legislation passed.
“I look at the people that I have seen who’ve died in difficult circumstances and I think their families will be so grateful to know that although their relatives went through such a bad time that it’s not going to be that way for other people in the future,” she said.
Greens MLC Mark Parnell said “South Australians have shown overwhelming support for compassionate law reform that allows those who are suffering intolerably from incurable and terminal conditions to end their lives with dignity”.
“Elected representatives should listen to the community and enact these important reforms,” he said.
“Other states have already passed these laws and it is time South Australia did as well.
“Voluntary assisted dying laws will help those small number of desperate people for whom the medical profession cannot offer relief at the end of their lives.”
There are some vocal opponents on the other side of the argument.
Labor MLC Clare Scriven told InDaily “there is clear evidence that safeguards are ignored or diluted in practice once voluntary euthanasia becomes legal”.
“We have a responsibility to legislate for the safety of all citizens, so I will not be supporting the bill,” she said.
Treasurer Rob Lucas said “I’ll be voting against the bill”.
“I’ve been a long-time opponent and will remain so but I accept that at this stage my views are in a minority in the Legislative Council,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt it’ll pass the Upper House.
“It will then essentially be in the hands of the House of Assembly as to whether or not it will pass the Parliament.
“I always have been opposed. You can never have enough safeguards.”
Labor MP Tom Koutsantonis said “I’m happy to look at it but my initial reaction has always been on the more conservative (side).”
“I haven’t read the bill yet – I’ll read it if it passes the Upper House,” he said.
“I’m inclined to always worry about state-sponsored euthanasia. I’m very uncomfortable about the idea of the government regulating death.”
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