Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (20:08): I, too, rise to speak on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill. As a conscience vote, it has weighed very heavily not only on me but on every member of this parliament because we have a responsibility to our constituency.

But I think it is much wider than that and it is much broader than that: we have a responsibility to humanity and we have a responsibility to change the laws here in this state that give people dignity. They give people the opportunity to be a part of a society that has, in most cases, been very good to them, but in some instances it has come at great cost, whether it is health or whether it is other challenges that we have in our life.

It is about recognising humanity, it is about recognising love, and it is also recognising the care that we should give our fellow humans. It is about recognising that we as legislators have to carefully think through introducing a new law or amending a law that will be set in stone forever.

For me, coming here tonight and making my contribution is in contrast to the debate in 2016. Back in 2016, as a member of parliament, I voted against the euthanasia bill. I did that for a number of reasons. I had made those decisions with my constituency behind me, but I also did that with a lack of understanding of what it really meant to me to lose a loved one or watch a loved one die in my arms. I remember coming into this chamber for that vote in 2016. I was the last MP to walk in. It weighed heavily on my shoulders. I must say that it has been a stark reminder from that day until this day.

My role has never been under more question as a parliamentarian, making sure that everything that I have contributed here over my term in this parliament is recognised as being for the benefit of humanity, for the benefit of South Australians and for the benefit of people who deserve a life that ends in dignity.

As a legislator, I have faced many challenges, and this has been one of the toughest. I think of those people who have come to me, whether they are a constituent, a friend, a family member or just a passer-by, knowing that I am an MP and giving me their opinion. Those opinions have always been accepted by me. They have been accepted as a story that I tell myself, and it governs the way that I think, it governs the way that I vote and it sometimes governs the outcomes, as it did last time with the euthanasia bill when I was the last MP to walk in here with that very, very heavy load.

Through life, I have had mentors who have given me what I consider advice that sets me in good stead for my ongoing days, no more so than my mother, no more so than my father. The very, very sad story that I endured after that 2016 euthanasia bill was watching my father die. It was very sad. My father died without the dignity that he deserved. He was a proud man. Many people have come to me and expressed those opinions because he was an active man and a successful person. He was a lover, he was not a fighter, but he died in the Mid North after enduring a horrific end to his life. Those last few words he said to me were about making sure that this happens to no-one— 'please' he said.

Those words that I have had with my mother were, 'Please do not ever let this happen to me.' This is about caring for humanity. It is about caring for those you love, those you think need to have a dignified end to their life. Along the way, it resonates over and over that we have to make the tough decisions. As legislators, those decisions are very rarely ever easy, but they are made in the best interests of the people.

During my sporting career, I have held my friend's hand in hospital as they died. I have held one of my best mate's hands on the side of a boat when he died. I have had experiences with friends who have died in car accidents, and they are wrenching moments, but this opportunity to change the law is something that is made with no exception of responsibility. I must say that, after watching my father die, it changed my outlook, it changed my thinking, on how people should end their life. They should end their life with dignity.

My constituency have also had their say, and a lot of it is fraught with opinion, but a lot of it is also fraught with opinion that I think by and large is a self-belief of how people should end their life. I say to everyone in this chamber that, as a legislator, as an MP, the outcome of this Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has to be about what is best for the common good.

As I said, I am happy to listen to the amendments—I think there might be room for some level of modification—but I have to accept that the legislation will be a law to embrace those who are looking for their last wish. In my constituency, this time 300 people have asked me to support it and 50 people have asked me not to support it. This time of reckoning that I have had has given me the opportunity to speak with doctors, with clinicians, with elderly, with young people, those people with mental health illnesses, those people with drug addiction, those people who care, those people who witness people dying in pain without dignity on a day-to-day basis, and it has weighed heavily on why I am supporting this bill.

This bill is not the golden handshake by any means, but it is a bill that needs to recognise love, it needs to recognise humanity and it needs to recognise South Australians as being good Samaritans for those people who are seeing the end of their life. This contribution that I have made this evening has come on the back of countless hours of consultation, lying awake at night wondering just how I could modify what I am going to say, my contribution, but at the end of the day the decision I make will be from my heart. It will also be from my head and it will also be from listening. The listening part of it has been the easy part.

The decision is the tough part—we know that—but I feel that South Australia is ready for the passage of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill to go through, and I look forward to supporting it. I look forward to South Australia having those safeguards in place. I am very proud of this government that has put some level of assistance with the bill, but by and large those who will support the bill have done it in the best interests of their constituency, their experience, and I think that they have done it in the best interests of humanity in South Australia.

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