Published: 01 October 2020

Legislative Council Tuesday 22 September, 2020

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I wish to make a brief contribution on adjournment. In response to the comments made by the member for Mersey in his summing up of debate on the bill we have just dealt with, I feel that it is important to speak to support Associate Professor Spruijt. In my view, it is a misrepresentation of what she has said and what she has commented on, both to members of the parliament, but also in the article that she wrote. She wrote an article in the Medical Journal of Australia, which I referred to in my speech, in response to an article in The Age newspaper. When that article was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, there were a number of comments on the online version. Some were very supportive of her position, others were quite contrary, which is the nature of the beast in this field, as we have said. We should be very careful about respecting differing opinions here.

I found the member for Mersey's comments quite disrespectful and unnecessary. I read her comments regarding the reasons people in Canada had chosen to use their medical assistance in dying legislation. The member for Mersey said that she misrepresented that information. Subsequent to reading her comments from the MJA, I then went to the MAiD report, which is the Canadian report, and read directly from that, which was basically confirming what she had said in her article.

It is really unfortunate we seem to be pulling apart a person's comments that she has made in good faith, and also, some of the doctors involved in supporting the member for Mersey in his work to get this bill through. I commended him on that, as other members have. But one of those doctors actually suggested to the member for Mersey that Associate Professor Spruijt was a loyal member of the Australian Catholic Medical Association. That is why she said at the beginning of our briefing that she has not been and is not a member of the Australian Catholic Medical Association, let alone a loyal member.

We need to be careful we are not suggesting that opposition to this process, whether it be our legislation, Victorian legislation or Western Australian legislation, is put in the box of religion. It is really important we do not do that. Professor Spruijt was speaking from her vast experience as a palliative care physician. She has worked for many, many years in that area and she was talking about the impact on her unit that she works in, with some doctors who choose to participate and others who, as she does, have a conscientious objection to it. We must respect these views. We must not be wanting to silence those voices that are different from ours potentially. She is entitled to her views.

I am saddened that we see such a personal attack on a highly skilled and experienced medical specialist in palliative care. She absolutely acknowledged she was a conscientious objector in both the article and in her communication with us. She was speaking about her experience. The member for Mersey said she had had no experience in VAD. She has had experience in the application of VAD in Victoria since she has been working in that area. She has not participated in it because she has chosen not to. It is her right to do that, to conscientiously object, but she has witnessed it being used in the area where she has worked. She has experienced the impact on her personally, some of her colleagues, and some of the nurses on the ward that she worked with.

It is really important we do not attack others with differing opinions, including the AMA. I know the AMA, for all their flaws, does not fully represent the views of their members. There are many members of the AMA who do support voluntary assisted dying. I have spoken to many of them. It is very important we do not attack individuals in this way, and that we respect differing views. I am saddened that we actually went down that path.

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