After some eight hours of debate in Parliament on the Death with Dignity Bill, on Wednesday 16 November 2016 and into the early hours of Thursday 17 November 2016, the Bill was defeated by just one vote, the casting vote of the Speaker. Published is the excerpt from Hansard of Steven's speech on 15 November 2016, in supporting the 2nd reading of the Bill.
Hansard, House of Assembly, Tuesday 15 November 2016
Mr GRIFFITHS ( Goyder ) ( 20:24 :10 ): This is one of the more challenging months I have had in my life, I must admit. Like many others, I have been contacted by a large number of people and I have been respectful of that and have ensured that I made every effort to read what I have received and reply to those people. It has been very challenging in that seemingly, while driving, my mind has suddenly been drawn to the legislation and its impacts. While waiting to go to sleep, my mind is drawn to the legislation and the impacts of it. I have been reading annual reports and, suddenly, my mind is drawn to the legislation and the impacts of it.
I can have but a small appreciation of the efforts of many others who have been the proponents of this legislation, of the commitment they have made to it and the thought they have put into it. In previous legislative debates in this area, I have voted no. I confirm that I will vote no again but I will vote yes on the second reading. I made that commitment some weeks ago because, while I have a very strong belief in life and the preservation of life, I do believe that we as a community have moved forward to at least be in a position for the debate to occur.
While I hold a strong principle in being against it, I have told the member for Morphett that the detail contained in the legislation is actually very important to me. During one of the many briefings that I and others have attended, I was rather upset when one member who does not reside in this chamber but is from the other place said, 'It's the principle; it's not the detail.' For me, it is the detail and also the principle, and I think the detail is going to consume much of the time of this place tomorrow when we come to the committee stage.
I will put on the record that the contact that has come through to the electorate office at Goyder is about 65 per cent against the legislation. The personal contact I have had from people I have known for many years—which, I must admit, might reflect my own personality—is that they are very strongly against it and they have taken the opportunity to remind me many times that they are very strongly against it.
There is a division, somewhat, within my own family. I trust the advice of my family in many things that have happened to me in my life, and there is a split between what I hold and what many others in my family hold, but it is something I believe very strongly. I have listened intently to the information sessions I have been to. This morning, for example, I have listened intently to Mr Denton on FIVEaa radio recounting a story of a person from New South Wales, which I also heard him present in one of the briefings I attended. It is very hard to listen to that without being significantly moved in terms of the discussion we are having now and the impact it will have on people's lives.
I have spoken to a man who is slightly younger than I who, I know, has faith and holds a relatively senior position in his church—a lay position. I expected him to be strongly against it but he was unsure. We talked about it for probably half an hour. That really interested me because I expected a completely different result from him. I think there is a vast number of people in our community who are actually engaged in this now to a degree that they might not have been before.
I have had a lot of frustration and a lack of willingness to accept poll results that have been put to me by people who have contacted me casually about this who have read that the figures of people who support it were up to 80 per cent or thereabouts. I have asked what sort of questions were posed to them and what their age profile was. To some degree, the position they held might reflect on their age profile.
As a younger person, you feel not necessarily that you are Superman but that ill-health will not be with you into the future and therefore it is an issue you do not have to deal with, but many of us do indeed have to deal with ill-health. I have listened to people who work in palliative care areas who talk about it in a positive sense and others who are completely opposed to it and believe that what they do has to be supported. I know that it takes significant resources of society to fund that, but I do believe that that too is one of our responsibilities.
I do want to be a significant player in the committee debate on this issue and I know there are many others in this chamber who will be too. Because my position is not to support a third reading, I have been asked by people who are not supportive of the legislation to vote against the second reading, but I have held firm to the position I formed close to two months ago when the Hon. Steph Key's legislation was being debated.
I must say that I was frustrated that the member for Morphett chose to introduce new legislation, and I have told him this. I believe that the parliament should have continued on the course of considering the member for Ashford's legislation. I know that there were 13 pages of amendments. I am for the process of considering amendments in line with what the legislation tabled actually presents. I am not challenged by that, so it frustrates me that others seem to be and that that was a reason for another set of legislation to be introduced.
I want to recount a couple of personal stories. Someone I have known for about 25 years is not overly well, but whenever we meet we have a good chat. He told me that he and his family were very strongly against voluntary euthanasia, and have been forever, until their 30-year-old son developed cancer, which will eventually take him. Since then, in dealing with extreme pain and the health issues he has been presented with, they have formed a very different opinion.
They recounted to me a story where, six months ago, before he had medication in place properly that would give him the necessary level of pain relief, he wanted to go, but, with improvements in his medication and pain management, he has lived six months since then, and, as a family, they have experienced time with him that was not available, and I believe that that is an issue for many people. I do not criticise those who hold positions either way, but I know that, as a member of parliament, we are criticised for the positions that we hold no matter what the vote is because history will record every word we have said as individuals. In my 10½ years in this place, I must say that this is one issue that has consumed my mind more than anything.
I pride myself on being a person who can see a pathway through a challenge to see what I believe the conclusion needs to be, but on this issue I have gone off at a tangent sometimes and been unsure. I have always reflected upon the need to ensure that I am involved in the discussion that gets it right in the end. It may be that the position I hold is not supported by the majority in this place at the third reading, or indeed the second reading, depending on what the result is, but it is an example of where the eyes of many are upon us now, and it is important that we give such a serious matter the really serious debate that it deserves.
I have made sure that I have tried to listen intently to the contributions of all. I have wanted to reflect upon that. I have wanted to put into that reflection my own personal experiences. I have wanted to talk to people I know who have worked in the health industry for decades and decades about their thoughts, and they are mixed also. I want to ensure that my contribution in this place is one that reflects the personality I bring here, where it is the detail because, no matter what occurs, if this legislation is passed I feel a great responsibility to ensure that the discussion that occurs will ensure that the process is right.
I personally hope that the legislation does not pass, but I want to make sure that, if the other side, those who propose this legislation, are successful, what the people of South Australia get is a system that will give those who choose to use it and those who support them the support that they need. I am grateful for the opportunity to put, over a short 10-minute period, some thoughts that I have.
I feel challenged by that, I must say, because I know that on Friday, when I get back to where I live, there will be people who will come up to me straightaway and want either to agree with me or be against what I have decided to do, but it is something that, with my hand on my heart, I believe is best for the people I am blessed to represent. It is one of the challenges to all of us, and I look forward to the vote on this occurring and for some form of resolution to be in place.
For a transcript of the full debate, containing all Members' speeches and questions, visit:
http://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/GeneralHansardInformation.aspx and follow the prompts (calendar search Tuesday 15 November, Wednesday 16 November, Thursday 17 November, House of Assembly)