McLeish off the leash on as­sisted sui­cide

Lo­cal mem­ber raises grave con­cerns in par­lia­ment

Mansfield Courier - - NEWS - BY JAR­RAH LOH jloh@ ne­me­dia.com.au

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.

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