McLeish off the leash on assisted suicide
Local member raises grave concerns in parliament
ON the morning of Thursday, October 19, it seemed that Victoria was just a whisker away from legalising assisted suicide. But things didn’t run so easy. A colossal 26-hour sitting of the lower state parliament finally ended on Friday, October 20, with 47 to 37 voting for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017.
Premier Daniel Andrews and his Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, gave it their full support, but with approximately 140 amendments failed, it appears to be resting on shaky ground.
“It was a mammoth sitting,” said Cindy McLeish (MLA, Eildon), who surprised many when she decided to oppose the final vote.
“I went 28 hours straight and was in the chamber the majority of the time,” she said.
“It was a complicated string of events.
“It seems like an easy yes or no answer, but when you start going through it clause by clause, you realise how many problems there are.
“I was very open to the idea, but the safeguards in this legislation haven’t stacked up.”
Ms McLeish voted in favour of Deputy Premier James Merlino’s failed attempt to block the proposed euthanasia laws, after pulling a parliamentary move that pitted him against the Premier and much of his cabinet.
“I agreed that there were a whole lot of areas of concern that needed to be addressed before the final decision was voted on,” said Ms McLeish.
“I wanted to sort those out before we even debated this Bill.”
The Bill was defeated, so she then voted to have the rest of the debate on the day.
So, parliament went through the Bill clause by clause. And there were 170 of them. “I thought there were several amendments that would improve the Bill but they all got rejected,” said Ms McLeish. “I put in a couple myself.” One related t o changing the level of access to lethal medicine.
Currently, patients would need a prognosis of less than 12 months of life to be able to obtain the drug Nembutal for personal use, but Ms McLeish believes it should be changed to six months.
“People can live for five to 10 years after a one-year diagnosis – but that medication will still be sitting on their shelf,” she said.
“A number of doctors have said that diagnosis is much more certain at six months compared to 12.”
The other change that Ms McLeish tried to amend was related to mental illness.
“If you have a mental illness that can be treated, then it needs to be considered – as depression can lead to suicide in itself,” she said.
“I do not think it should be made available to anyone that has an un-treated mental illness problem.”
Everyone had 10 or 15 minutes to air their opinion and Ms McLeish took her full 15 minutes, and was still left wanting for more.
“Another problem that was raised by many people was that we are trying to send out a very strong message that suicide is wrong in our society, but then at the other end we’re saying that suicide is okay,” she said.
“We have to remember that not everyone that is going to take this is over 80.
“They just have to be over the age 18.”
There were also several concerns raised about coercion and protection.
“If they have this stuff just sitting at home, what is to stop someone saying ‘okay, I think you’ve had enough’, and administering the drug?” she said.
“If you own a firearm, it has been locked away in a steel safe, bolted to the floor, inspected by the police, and no one else is allowed access to it in any way. “It is serious business.” The final major issue raised by many was regarding elder abuse.
“The Australian Law Reform Commission has said themselves there needs to be a lot of work done around elder abuse in this country,” said Ms McLeish.
The Andrews government ministers have emphasised the scheme’s penalties, including life imprisonment for anyone who administers the lethal drug outside a permit.
Any person, including a doctor, family member or friend, who administered the drug to a patient who hadn’t a permit to do it themselves would face life behind bars.
Doctors, families or friends who coerced someone to take part in the scheme could also spend five years in jail and face hefty fines.
“It’s not as simple as me voting against assisted suicide – it was very considered,” concluded Ms McLeish.
“But the government is not interested in any improvements to the Bill.”
AGAINST: Cindy McLeish (MLA, Eildon) after 28 hours decided to oppose the final vote on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.