I am opposed to the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 because I believe in the sanctity of human life. Leaving the state to assist and sanction suicide, in my view, would diminish the special and unique gift of human life.
I recognise that, while the bill seeks to restore territory rights, it explicitly does so for the purpose of sanctioning assisted suicide. Indeed, the words 'assisted suicide' are in the title of the bill. While the matter of euthanasia is a matter for the states, the Commonwealth does have the constitutional right to legislate in this area for the territories. I believe this is a matter of such ethical importance that it should be reserved for the national parliament and not be delegated to jurisdictions that are not recognised as states under our Constitution. I will confine the rest of my marks to the ethical question of the legalisation of assisted suicide.
I want to very clearly outline in my contribution what I mean by euthanasia or assisted suicide. Euthanasia is a deliberate act that causes death. The failure to provide or to accept treatment is not euthanasia. The provision of pain relief, providing it's administered without the intention of ending life, is not euthanasia. I think we can all agree that we should seek to adequately fund palliative care to help all people at the end of their lives to avoid unnecessary suffering.
Of course, we don't all agree on whether the legalisation of assisted suicide is a good idea. This is a deeply ethical question and I appreciate and respect other views on this issue. My views stem from the ethical views that I hold—in particular, that there is a natural law that demarcates certain acts as good and other acts as evil. I've heard many times in this debate that we put down animals to end their suffering, so why shouldn't we allow humans to do the same? There are a number of things that I think are fundamentally wrong with such a metaphor. The first most practical one is that animals have no agency in their euthanasia. A dog is not asked for its permission before a needle is administered, because a dog cannot give its permission. It has no free will. Human beings do have free will, however. We are remarkable creatures. We are not mere animals. We have an innate desire to seek the good. We make choices after contemplation and consciousness. There is something unique, special and sacred about every human life, and we should fight to cherish and protect all human lives.
Another thing human beings uniquely do is love. We should celebrate and love life. That must start by learning to love our individual selves and the gift of human life that we have been given. That will let us love others as well and will let us seek a good and virtuous life. I believe that this parliament and the state more generally should pass laws that celebrate life and that help establish a culture of life; unfortunately, in my view this bill does not celebrate life.
Some will argue in rebuttal to me that assisted suicide will only be permissible in limited circumstances—those in great suffering or those at the end of their life. But a society is judged by the values it holds most dear, the thing it will not trade off for some other thing of higher worth. For a Judeo-Christian society, that most valuable thing, that thing that is most sacred, that cannot be violated, is human life. I believe that such a standard helps deliver more good. In a society that allows the state to sanction suicide, clearly human life is not the highest good, not the most sacred thing. Such a society is willing to trade off life for less human suffering. Instead, in such a society the greatest good would be the minimisation of human suffering and the promotion of untrammelled human liberty towards that end. This would be a fundamental change to the bedrock moral and ethical standards of our society.
The problem with this change is that there is no clear definition of who is to decide what is too much human suffering and what restrictions would be placed around the maximisation of human welfare, even potentially at the expense of the suffering of others. At its limit, this philosophy replaces the 10 commandments with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. We can calculate one person's suffering—or the antiseptic jargon, 'their quality of life'—against the happiness of others. When human life is not infinitely valued, our lives literally become the inputs to a morally vacuous mathematical formula. This is not just a theoretical concern; it has been the lived experience of societies who have gone down this path.
Take the example of the Netherlands, where assisted suicide has been legal for more than 15 years. A recent survey found that 60 per cent of Dutch physicians do not report their cases of assisted suicide, even though reporting is required by law, and about 25 per cent of physicians admit to ending patients' lives without their consent. There is even a reported case where a Dutch doctor euthanised a 26-year-old ballerina with arthritis in her toes, because she could no longer pursue her career as a dancer, she was depressed and requested to be put to death. The doctor complied with her request and merely noted, 'One doesn't enjoy such things, but it was her choice.'
I fear that a right to die could soon transform into an expectation to die. This would then cause a fundamental shift in how we interact with our families and our loved ones. If we are seeking to maximise happiness, not protect life, soon people will be seen as, or will see themselves as, a burden on others, not someone with intrinsic value in their own life. I don't want to encourage a society where the disabled or sick are not seen as anything other than fully human with all the God-given rights that we all enjoy. Again, this is the lived experience of jurisdictions that have legalised state sanctioned suicide. The Oregon Health Authority found that 40 per cent of those who assisted a suicide cited being a burden on family or friends or their caregivers as their motivation to end their life.
As I said at the start of my contribution on this matter, my views on this are deeply personal; they do stem from the fundamental ethics that I hold. I do hope we can vote for life in this chamber, because I believe that, if we do not, we will return to a harsher, less forgiving world that we should not return to.