Senator who opposed euthanasia to change vote after father’s death under Victorian voluntary assisted dying laws

A Victorian senator who voted against territories being able to legislate for euthanasia four years ago says her father’s death has changed her mind on the practice.

The Liberal Party’s Jane Hume wept as she discussed her father Steve’s cancer diagnosis and, later, his decision to end his life.

Senator Hume said her father’s death under Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws had changed her views.

The Senate is currently considering removing a federal veto that prevents the ACT and the Northern Territory from debating euthanasia laws.

“I once voted against this legislation, but I will be voting in favor of it today,” Senator Hume told parliament.

“We say in this place, when we make a decision, that we will walk a mile in another man’s shoes.

“Well, I have certainly done that — having experienced it, having lived it, having held the hand of a person that I deeply loved.”

Labor MPs Luke Gosling, from Darwin, and Alice Payne, from Canberra, introduced the bill in July.

If passed, the bill would remove the 25-year-old ban on the ACT and NT debating or passing VAD legislation.

In contrast, every state in Australia now has euthanasia laws, after New South Wales became the last state to pass them in May.

‘The safeguards were almost insurmountable’

Four years ago, when the Senate blocked a similar attempt to restore the territories’ rights, Senator Hume said the proposed laws were a “slippery slope” that would lead to wider use of “assisted suicide” than intended.

She also pointed out that the territories did not, and should not, have the same rights as states.

“They are different from states. They do not have the same rights,” she told the Senate in 2018.

On Wednesday, she began her address by disagreeing with her Liberal colleague Alex Antic, who had earlier described the bill as “one that would legalize suicide”.

Senator Antic had also mentioned the number of Victorians who had died under that state’s VAD laws.

“My father was in the statistics Senator Antic read earlier,” Senator Hume said.

She recalled her opposition to the 2018 bill, and her fear that euthanasia laws lacked adequate safeguards.

“The theory that someone vulnerable may be guilted into deciding to end their lives,” she said.

“‘No legislation can safeguard against guilt’, I said back then.”

Senator Hume said that, by the end of 2019, she had experienced that herself, as cancer began to spread through her father’s body.

His “exhaustive” treatments had not asked for a terminal diagnosis, and he his doctor to arrange his death.

“That was the beginning of a harrowing few months,” Senator Hume said.

“His doctor tried to talk him out of it, insisting instead that palliative care was a better option.”

When her father’s condition deteriorated, Senator Hume called a Victorian parliamentary colleague, who helped her father enact his wishes.

“The voluntary assisted dying safeguards [in Victoria] mean that no other family member can help organize, request or even discuss voluntary assisted dying — it must be the patient themselves,” she said.

“And this is a good safeguard in theory, but a very frustrating one when you’re the daughter of a stridently adamant single-minded but increasingly incapable father demanding your help.

“The safeguards that I questioned back then were not only there, but they were almost insurmountable.”

Her father’s wish was granted only after what Senator Hume described the interrogations of herself, her sister and her mother.

Territories are ‘no less worthy’

NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy standing in front of several microphones and speaking at a press conference.
Labor’s Malarndirri McCarthy has reservations about assisted dying laws.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

NT Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy also spoke in support of the bill on Wednesday, calling for equal rights for Canberrans and Northern Territorians.

“Australians living in the territories should have the same rights as those in the states,” she said.

Senator McCarthy said the existing restrictions on the territories were “archaic” and should be removed.

She encouraged senators to support the bill despite her hesitations over VAD legislation.

“Don’t let Australians in our territories feel any less worthy than the ones you represent in your respective states.”

Penny Wong, the government’s leader in the Senate, said she wanted the chamber to resolve the territory rights question “once and for all before the end of the year, noting it is a conscience vote”.

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