HOT TOPIC: Should people be allowed to die with dignity?
WHEN The Morning Bulletin called on readers to submit debate questions for Rockhampton's State Election candidates, a significant number of emails were received questioning their views on the issue of voluntary assisted dying.
With legislation to legalise voluntary euthanasia likely to be introduced in the next term of government, many voter's decisions at polling booths will be guided by the stances of Rockhampton's prospective candidates.
Brisbane-based Dying with Dignity Queensland vice president Craig Glasby is a retired GP who has lead the effort to make voluntary assisted dying an important election campaign issue.
Dying with Dignity Queensland has been in existence for 35 years with Dr Glasby joining about four years ago after going through chemotherapy for bone cancer.
"Cancer really focuses one's attention on the possibility of death and what that would be like," Dr Glasby said.
"Many of our members have joined DWDQ because of end-of-life experiences they have had with friends and loved ones.
"We keep in close contact with our members statewide and alert them to possibilities to promote voluntary assisted dying and also of opportunities to engage with community such as your debate."
Dr Glasby said at the end of life, some of the terminally ill had very distressing symptoms. "Palliative care is very helpful but there are at least 5 per cent of people for whom it does not help and more who are only partially helped," he said.
"Some of these people request help to end their lives in a dignified manner but presently they do not have that choice.
"Every month in Queensland, seven terminally ill Queenslanders end their own lives prematurely by suicide because they do not want to get to the stage of not physically being able to act. "
Dr Glasby said the circumstances of these suicides was distressing to all around them including police and medics.
"Voluntary assisted dying is not suicide. It is a choice at the end of life for those with intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved," he said.
"It often occurs with friends and family around. Stories coming out of Victoria demonstrate that this leaves families with closure and positive memories."
Following an 18-month parliamentary inquiry which returned a positive recommendation for the introduction of VAD, the Queensland Government has now referred the matter to the Queensland Law Reform Commission, which will draw up legislation based on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry and submissions from stakeholders and the public.
It is due for presentation to parliament in March next year.
"Many of our members are frustrated that candidates do not say whether they support VAD in principle," Dr Glasby said.
"This was apparent during your debate. Our members want this information so that it can guide their vote.
"Except for the Legalise Cannabis Queensland candidate, the other candidates were evasive in their commitment one way or the other.
"Remember that this is not going to be mandatory legislation and it is an individual choice. "Barry O'Rourke, who is MP for Rockhampton, sat on the Parliamentary inquiry committee and we know he is in favour of VAD."
See below what Rockhampton's candidates had to say in The Morning Bulletin's online debate on the issue of voluntary assisted dying.
Lyn Morgan asked, " The right to die with dignity is extremely important to me. Do you, as a matter of principle, support the right of Queenslanders to have the choice of access to voluntary assisted dying under appropriate protections and safeguards if they have a terminal illness or neurological condition causing them intolerable suffering?"
LNP candidate Tony Hopkins
Mr Hopkins said it wasn't simply a yes or no question and it was an issue that needed to be looked at closely.
"I don't believe in suffering. I believe in relieving the suffering of people but we have to look at this carefully because it could be used for the wrong purposes," Mr Hopkins said.
One Nation candidate Torin O'Brien
Mr O'Brien agreed with Mr Hopkins in that no-one should have to suffer and "there are certainly instances where we shouldn't deny the right of someone to let go".
But he was worried about instances overseas where people were taking this measure because they were a "bit upset" about their life.
"We need a very strict law to make sure people who are taking up voluntary assisted dying, is for a reason, genuine, terminal reason - not just because they don't want to live anymore," Mr O'Brien said.
KAP candidate Christian Shepherd
Mr Shepherd agreed with the statements of the previous candidates saying it was important that there were things in place to ease suffering if someone was going through incurable torment.
"But we need to recognise the difference between a moral principle and a legal principle," Mr Shepherd said.
"A legal principle can open the door to a lot of unintended effects that can have some pretty grim consequences."
Legalise Cannabis Qld candidate Laura Barnard
Ms Barnard believed the issue came down to the person's choice.
"I believe there should be a lot of law and a lot of psychological backing, as well as medical backing for these decisions to be made," Ms Barnard said.
"It is implied that we need more precautions to ensure if this law is to be passed, it isn't abused and we don't see heartbreak, even more than we see heartbreak from the people that aren't able to access (it)."
Labor incumbent candidate Barry O'Rourke
Mr O'Rourke said he strongly believed that people should have a choice on this issue.
"Voluntary assisted dying is a very complex and deeply personal issue," Mr O'Rourke said.
"As a member of the Parliamentary Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee, I have listened to Queenslanders' personal stories and views as part of the inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care, including voluntary assisted dying.
"A decision has been made to refer the preparation of draft legislation to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. They will report back to the Attorney-General by March 1, 2021, for government's final consideration.
"The way in which the Palaszczuk Government responds to these recommendations about reform to aged care, end-of-life and palliative care, and voluntary assisted dying is critical to ensuring the protection of our most vulnerable members of the community - it is critical we get this right."
Greens candidate Mick Jones
Mr Jones said he supported the right to die with dignity.
"Not only is it vital for people to have this right for its own sake, but there's a great deal of evidence that people living with severe chronic conditions, and even terminal conditions, can manage better, and have better outcomes, when they have the right to make this choice if the time comes for them to do so," Mr Jones said.
"Just as important is that we provide world class medical care, including palliative care, for everyone in our community, as and when they need it. Far too many people in CQ suffer through years of chronic conditions that can be better managed with better support.
"That does not however remove the need for Queenslanders to have the choice of access to voluntary assisted dying under appropriate protections and safeguards.
"Even as we improve our healthcare system, we must uphold the right to die with dignity, and agency, and give proper support for people who are making that decision."