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EDITORIAL

Another reason to be glad we’re Aussies

At a time when the world is beset by political and social extremism on the one hand and a global undercurrent of deep deep concern about global warming and the need for social and economic stability and goodwill on the other, it is painful to observe the divisions and problems that many leading western nations are exhibiting.
The brawling and political warfare which continues to persist in the United States at the present demonstrates how dangerous extreme political partisanship can be when unity, common sense and common purpose are needed to heal and restore the nation’s claimed ideal of democratic leadership but it is also evident that the USA has fallen short in major areas of social welfare and responsibility.
The toll extracted by the COVID virus on Americans has been extraordinary and the end to that crisis is still some way off.
More than 750,000 American citizens have died from the pandemic and hundreds of thousands more are suffering from ongoing medical conditions as a result of the infection.
The huge number of casualties from COVID in America has arisen from the trumping of medical science and prudence by political arrogance and aided by entrenched ignorance or social media-driven misinformation.
The decay of a responsible health and welfare environment in the United States is perhaps highlighted by the failures of authorities to
rein in the drug overdose crisis which continues to persist in that country.
The U.S. government announced this month that more than 100,000 people have died in that country between April 2020 and April 2021 from drug overdoses.
The overdose death rate stood at 20,000 a year back in 2001.
But opioid misuse has accelerated a health disaster.
More people have died from the illegal synthetic opioid fentanyl than there were overdose deaths from all drugs in 2016, reports the Washington Post.
President Joe Biden has warned that while efforts to contain the COVID crisis continue the nation cannot ignore the overdose epidemic which is hitting hard in many areas of the country.
We think that this country is facing a drug problem – and perhaps it is – but illegal opioid use in this country is low by comparison with the U.S.
Only 0.1 per cent of the Australian population reported using heroin in 2019.
The overdose death rate in Australia in 2019 was 1,865; one quarter of this number related to heroin.
Criminal syndicates, however, continue to test our borders by trying to smuggle drug shipments in.
The U.S., of course, is not alone when it comes to trying to successfully control and end the COVID pandemic.
European nations too are increasingly discovering that they do not have COVID under control.
We Australians, however, although often critical and suspicious of our political leadership, have been prepared, in the main, to listen to the advice and information supplied by our acknowledged leaders in the medical and scientific field.
It seems that our nation is emerging from the lockdown era and some of the differing approaches to controlling the pandemic adopted by the states which have caused some political bunfights are coming to an end.
While some political ratbaggery exists and persists our national approach to dealing with COVID has been successful when measured against international outcomes.
Common sense, expert advice, and social cohesion seem to have prevailed in this country in the battle against COVID.
That battle is not yet over but we are approaching the time when life may again return to ‘normal’.
Perhaps, in the aftermath of the past two years, it is with some quiet pride that we can reaffirm that we are glad to be Australians.

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Member for Barwon speaks on voluntary assisted dying debate

Member for Barwon Roy Butler made a speech in relation to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill on Friday afternoon, November 19.
At this stage, it is difficult to predict whether the bill will come to a vote before the end of parliament, which ends for the year this Friday.
His speech is as follows:
Some bills that come before this place cause strong emotional and value-driven responses from people.
As local members, we should embrace the opportunity to deal with difficult issues because by doing so problems that have been pushed to the side for too long are resolved.
It is courage and integrity from elected representatives that leads to better policy decisions.
Kicking something down the road for another parliament to deal with is not why we are here.
To that end, I thank the member for Sydney for introducing the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
When I was given notice of the bill, I reiterated to communities in my electorate that my perspective is not important; it is understanding what most of the people in my electorate want me to do.
I spoke to people and used print media, social media and radio to ask them what they wanted me to do.
Over 80 per cent of people who responded wanted me to support a bill that allowed people to have more choice at end of life, especially where pain and suffering could not be alleviated through medicine or palliation.
I have listened to some contributions to this debate, and I can understand why members have spoken about palliative care.
For me, palliative care and voluntary assisted dying are two different things and need to be dealt with as separate issues.
I welcome the Premier’s comments regarding increased resources for palliative care, especially in regional NSW where options can be few and far between.
We must never allow a lack of palliative care to be a factor in a person’s decision to consider voluntary assisted dying. That commitment needs to be more than words from the NSW government.
A significant investment is required in palliative care, especially in regional and remote NSW, to allow people to have a choice.
We as a parliament will have failed miserably if people go down the path of voluntary assisted dying because of a lack of palliative care.
Health services, in general, are in deficit in regional and remote NSW because of staffing difficulties and services being centralised; therefore, those services are being removed from smaller communities.
It requires a significant rethink and allocation of resources, especially now that the federal government is targeting regional NSW for new Australians post-COVID.
The work-from-home revolution, coupled with housing affordability, has seen a major shift from metropolitan areas to the regions.
Again, baseline health services need to be dealt with, as I have spoken about many times in this place and with the minister.
But, I believe that is a separate issue to voluntary assisted dying.
As with palliation, a lack of medical services should not be a factor in a person’s decision to access voluntary assisted dying. If that occurs this government and this parliament have totally failed the people of NSW.
There would have been a couple of deal-breakers in the bill that, as a representative, I needed to see.
A big one is choice, not just for the person seeking voluntary assisted dying but for doctors and health providers. That is in the bill.
If a person, doctor or health facility, such as a faith-based hospital, want nothing to do with voluntary assisted dying, they do not have to.
Another is two physicians concurring that voluntary assisted dying is an appropriate pathway for a terminally ill person, with informed consent and without coercion.
It must be agreed that the person seeking voluntary assisted dying has six months or less to live because of physical illness, or 12 months or less to live because of a neurodegenerative illness.
That is good, but it would be preferable to involve the patient’s treating physician and a treating specialist.
If those physicians are not available to participate, for whatever reason, it should not deny or create barriers to accessing voluntary assisted dying for a terminally ill person.
Given that doctors involved in voluntary assisted dying are not opposed to voluntary assisted dying, it could create a perception that no-one is championing the alternatives.
Perhaps there should be an options advocate who would make sure that all options have been fully explored prior to a decision being made.
We shall see what amendments are proposed.
While some people will deny it, voluntary assisted dying happens every day; we just do not call it that.
I remember in 2003 when my dad, also named Royal, was told, “Roy, I am just giving you some morphine for the pain,” despite being deeply unconscious and taking a breath every 10 to 15 seconds, it was a clear choice that Dad had made in consultation with hospital staff and family.
As a 73-year-old totally and permanently incapacitated veteran of the Korean War, suffering from multiple complex health issues, I respected his decision.
How is it my place to say he should not have that choice?
The nurses administering the medication were in an awkward position; the treating doctors were also somewhat compromised.
What they did was humane, in line with the wishes of my Dad and it was the right thing to do.
But, they did it without the protection, structure or checks and balances that the bill seeks to provide.
Many people have told me their own stories of voluntary assisted dying masquerading as pain management or, worse yet, of watching a loved one in agony, without sufficient relief, die a painful and protracted death—not one the terminally ill person wanted, nor one they wanted their family to see and remember.
One thing we do not speak about or see in the media much is terminally ill people who take their own life.
That can rarely happen surrounded by the love and support of family.
When I worked on the NSW Police Force, often in the daily sitrep there were heart-wrenching stories of a terminally ill person who slipped down the paddock with a rifle, knowingly took excess medications or found some other way to take their own life.
That is traumatic for everyone.
It is traumatic for the terminally ill person dying alone, the family that discover the body of their loved one and the emergency services personnel who have to attend yet another confronting and psychologically scarring scene.
I contribute to the debate on the bill so that people in my electorate understand the process and rationale behind the way I will vote.
I acknowledge that around 20 per cent of people — some who felt very strongly — do not want me to support the bill.
I hope that the explanation I provided goes some way to addressing the concerns they outlined to me.
There are many choices in life that we get to make as individuals.
We choose whether or not to get married, have children, travel, eat meat, not eat meat, and follow a religion, and whether to believe in modern medicine or a higher power.
The richness of our society is born out of our individual ability to choose.
However, there is no life without death.
No matter how we live our lives and no matter the choices we make that shape our existence, that very existence will come to the same end for all of us.
That is one of the two unifying elements of everyone’s life; we are born and one day we will die.
For those who wish to have the ability to choose how their end will come, I quote the author of the book Being Mortal Medicine and What Matters in the End:
“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story.
“That story is ever-changing.
“Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties.
“Our concerns and desires may shift.
“But, whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties.”
The end of that quote is the part that matters.
The bill does not impose on those who do not believe in voluntary assisted dying.
Should they choose to never consider voluntary assisted dying, it will not be part of their life’s journey.
However, it does allow choice for people who wish to be in control and to choose right to the very end.

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