Oct 23, 2017

View from the ‘accessible’ section: Victoria’s delirious, heartening euthanasia vote

My vantage point from the "accessible" section of the public gallery was one of the few perks of being, as far as I know, the only visibly seriously physically sick or disabled person to attend the sitting, writes activist and blogger Nia Sims.

By the wee hours of Friday morning, the mood in the house was slightly delirious. My friend, colleague and registered nurse Jane Morrow and many others cried when the vote on voluntary assisted dying, 47-37, was finally declared to a packed house at 11am after a record 22 hour sitting in Victorian Parliament. It was met with a weary but fulsome round of applause from most in attendance.

My vantage point from the "accessible" section of the public gallery was one of the few perks of being, as far as I know, the only visibly seriously physically sick or disabled person to attend the sitting. I could see the entire public gallery, press gallery, and members to the right of the speaker. If I craned my neck forward, I could watch the profile of the member for Bundoora, Graham Watt MP, aka "the man in black", Robert Clark MP and select colleagues as they filibustered through the long night, asking lengthy questions on topics covered in the debate two days prior. They did so on the basis that amendments to clauses were required. None were passed. For a Python-esque half hour or so at around 3am, the filibustering focused on the topic of the possibility of the cessation of filibustering.

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20 thoughts on “View from the ‘accessible’ section: Victoria’s delirious, heartening euthanasia vote

  1. old greybearded one

    The author of the brother Cadfael mysteries, Ellis Peters wrote in “The Potter’s Field” of a woman in dreadful pain in a time when suicide was mortal sin. She obtained a vial of hemlock and said that having the option to die stopped her from despair and enabled her to endure. This seemed, at the time, a very touching and relevant point of view. I think my father who indeed attempted to end his life would have not done so if he knew the option would be there at the end.

    1. [email protected]

      Thanks, Greybeard, for hearing the message. Peace of mind, every day, for the rest of my long or short life, whichever comes first. x

  2. leon knight

    Great article Nia – I hope GetUp is on your side too…Very disappointing argument from PK, and I am a big fan of his.
    I can only assume that his underlying Catholicism is bubbling to the surface as he nears the end of his life….

    1. tonysee

      Nasty swipe there Leon especially as PK doesn’t bring religion into his argument.
      There are good people marshalling coherent arguments on both sides of this issue. Ad hominem is not a counter argument.
      There is, for example, a decent representation of people with disabilities and their supporters who are opposed to this change in the law.
      There are also people of faith who are for and against.

      1. MAC TEZ

        PK wasn’t so concerned when PM with the N.T.’s legislation (as Marshall Perron pointed out a few days ago). Why the change now ? Perhaps being older and closer to the end he worries that a Labor-hating carer may want to hasten his departure ?
        Why do people of faith (who generally accept the notion of an all-seeing,all-knowing,all-powerful creator) feel any need to concern themselves with matters of the State ?
        If floods,droughts,miscarriages,pedophile priests and plane crashes are “Gods will” and/or “the Lord working in mysterious ways” why worry about anything the State might legislate when they could be worshiping instead ?
        The State allows freedom of religion, so the religious should then allow the State freedom from religion, is that unreasonable ?

    2. [email protected]

      He doesn’t identify C in his piece but in the lower house, religion was mentioned but once in the debate, by a Buddhist who supports VAD.

  3. Alystra

    I don’t wish to be petty after reading Nia Sims first-hand account of the deliberations and subsequent result of the passage of the voluntary assisted dying legislation in Melbourne last week but must point out an inaccuracy. The State member for Bundoora is Colin Brooks (ALP); Graham Watt (Lib) is the State member for Burwood. As someone who has lived in the Bundoora electorate I have found Mr Brooks to be quite progressive and thoughtful – not a filibuster type for such an important issue.

  4. Malcolm Street

    Excellent piece from someone directly affected – look forward to seeing your report from the upper house.

    1. [email protected]

      Thanks Malcolm – you’re not the first to point this out – apol. for the error. N

  5. Draco Houston

    “If we buy the cart, we’ll need to get the horse too.”
    This would work better if the things needing funding got adequate funding. If the only thing you have to offer those who want better palliative care instead is basically ‘don’t worry it’ll sort itself out’, you’ll be open to this criticism for a long time.

    1. [email protected]

      Yes, Draco, this weighs on me some. I’ve been called naive for holding out this hope. I do believe VAD will offer leverage to pall care and draw attention to the plight of the elderly in nursing homes (recently read that 4/10 residents receive NO visitors). There is SO MUCH that needs fixing in end of life care – – Libs have ‘promised’ 140mil to pall care at this point, to ALPs 39million. In the end, VAD IS needed in and of itself. To those who want better pall care instead I’m suggesting that we demand both. Agree with you entirely though. Thanks.

  6. peter

    Thank you Nina, for your most thoughtful commentary and in particular, for the brilliant line: “I’ll be the judge of whether I’m better off dead, Mr Prime Minister”. That’s really all there is to say, or at least all there should be to say in a civilised society where the rights of individuals are respected.

    1. tonysee

      Well no, Peter.
      There is a social aspect to this if you’re asking others to be involved in your death.
      If not, why do we, as a society, try to prevent suicides in other groups?

    2. [email protected]

      Thanks, Peter, for acknowledging my (our) judgement of our own suffering when we are dying .

  7. tonysee

    ‘ … when I am on oxygen nasal prongs and can barely breathe …’.
    It’s likely that you’re going to be as disappointed after the law is passed — assuming it is passed — as you are now about the prospect of your own access to VAD. It is so restrictive that the picture you paint will not be enough for you to be eligible.
    ‘What matters is that we have an opportunity to manage the risks of properly regulated voluntary assisted-dying … at the time and in the manner of their choosing’.
    Again, that’s not what your getting, and this consistent exaggeration of the scope of this legal change is deceptive.
    ‘You appear to have missed the point that having VAD available as a choice will place an onus on providers of healthcare to offer every reasonable palliative option — before a request from a patient for VAD will be considered.’
    I’d love to know that basis for this claim. I can’t see how it follows at and the ‘horse/cart’ analogy seems an unreasonable comparison.

    1. [email protected]

      I get you – the scope is narrow, but ow else do we get the damn thing passed. I know I’ll be in a bloody bad way before my doctor will be willing to say she thinks I’ve got less than 12 months (or 6 months for that matter, and this will exclude soooo many people, ut it’s the only way to get across the line.
      As far as leveraging better pall care – for the life of me right now i cannot find the passage in the bill which references that (paraphrasing) ‘the person’s suffering cannot be relieved by any other measures that the person deems tolerable’. Perhaps this is not black and white and far from iron clad, perhaps I am, as I have been described, naive to think this will happen, but it is with optimism that I predict public scrutiny of end of life care will grow exponentially with this controversial ‘last resort’ care option in place.

  8. Desmond Graham

    Thank you for confirming my comment of last Friday

    ” The people who avail themselves of the option don’t do it because intractable pain – they mainly do it so they can control the process [ in other words retain autonomy].The other reason they fear loss of dignity. Falling on one’s sword has been in a lot of cultures and sometimes required an assistant – ‘hold the sword for me mate’, or ritualised as in Japan . But it was never legislated.”

    1. [email protected]

      Desmond, Thanks for your comment. As Harriet Shing MLC so eloquently described in her Upper House Speech last week, this bill is like trying to mix oil and water – emotion and reason…. medicine is an art and a science, and neither of those exact. It’s very hard to legislate for.

  9. Marjorie Carless

    Excellent article Nia. What the naysayers don’t take into consideration are the people with a terminal illness who just can’t stand the pain and suffering for one more minute and try to end it themselves with painful repercussions and only perhaps death. At least if this hopefully is passed in the upper house then people in this situation will at least see a light at the end of the painful tunnel.

    1. [email protected]

      Thanks Marjorie,
      As the debate continues I notice that people like myself are beginning to start quietly revealing to each other, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly, that they do indeed have a plan to die earler than they otherwise would if VAD does not become avail in Vic. We keep our plans close to our chests. At first I found it difficult to say publicly that I plan to use ‘The Swiss Option’, if needed. I revealed that only to highlight that I am lucky enough to have the $, and that if/when I do, I will need to travel and die sooner than necessary. Peace of Mind every day is indeed what it’s all about, Marjorie. x

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