I rise and indicate that I will be opposing Mr Kavanagh’s motion.
At the outset I also challenge Mr Kavanagh’s assertion that those who oppose his motion this evening are people who reject knowledge and demand to be ignorant. That could not be further from the truth.
In terms of the particular issue that is before us tonight, it was brought to my attention by my husband when he read the article in the Herald Sun by Padraic Murphy. He told me there were a number of things in this article that were enough to stop you in your tracks, so to speak, because the claims seemed to be really out there and quite extreme. I undertook to investigate this matter further, because if this information is being promulgated in the popular press, then I think all of us are duty-bound to try to ascertain the source of that information and to rectify the situation as well.
In the meantime, as we now know, Mr Kavanagh has utilised a number of points in that article and formatted a motion that is before the chamber this afternoon.
I have had the opportunity to read the report, and it did raise questions, not so much in terms of the data as such but I felt as if I needed more information on the stories — if I can use a colloquial term — behind the data in the report so I would better understand the full context of the statistics before me. I had that briefing last week, and I thank the people involved, because they certainly clarified and crystallised a number of points for me.
I have also had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a number of colleagues on this side of the chamber as well as on the crossbench and on the opposition side as well.
The discussions were brought about by the fact that we recently had a very long and fulsome discussion on amendments to the Crimes Act, which generated a significant amount of knowledge in this chamber about how we handle information and pick through it to make sure we have the facts before us, regardless of the position we might take in that debate, so that we have an established set of core points we can agree to disagree with or try to influence.
After the contribution by the last speaker, it is probably worth going over again the points of fact that should be part of this debate. The motion refers to neonatal deaths occurring at around 26 to 28 weeks of gestation. As Mr Tee and Ms Hartland have already indicated, this is untrue. In almost all instances these deaths occurred before 24 weeks of gestation. Of the 52 babies referred to in the report as neonatal deaths, all were known to be suffering from — and I will be quite clear about this — what are considered to be serious congenital abnormalities, not a disability or disabilities. They are identified in table 5 on pages 7 to 10 of the 2007 annual report of the Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity. These abnormalities would result in either death in utero, death shortly after birth or a child born with extreme defects; the medical term is ‘permanent vegetative state’. We are talking about very serious situations which in medical terms are considered to be incompatible with life.
In instances where such extreme defects are detected in pregnancy there is an automatic referral to a tertiary centre, whether that be the Royal Women’s Hospital or the Monash Medical Centre. At this time a team of medical experts undertakes further assessment and evaluation of the baby in utero. It would be in a whole range of areas, so if there is a heart problem, heart specialists are consulted; if it concerns another part of the body, relevant specialists are consulted.
Parents undertake extensive counselling, and, as highlighted by Mr Tee, that counselling can go on for some time because it is important that all the facts are laid out and that the parents feel comfortable in the decision they take, whether it be a decision not to proceed with the pregnancy and to have a chemical abortion, or the situation we are talking about here tonight, which is not about a late-term abortion but about an induced labour.
After the parents have been advised that there is a serious congenital abnormality they have full assessments and go through a whole round of discussions and further tests. As I just mentioned, they also have extensive counselling. Once the full extent of the baby’s congenital abnormality is understood, the parents are provided with all the necessary information and time to make the best decision for their baby. As Mr Tee and Ms Hartland have pointed out, all of these babies are most wanted babies.
When the women in these relationships found themselves pregnant, every single one of them lived that moment that every mother has and were joyful about the prospect of having a full and healthy pregnancy and labour.
When parents confront the situation of a serious congenital abnormality in their unborn child they are offered choices. As I said, the three choices are continuation of the pregnancy, which will essentially result in a still birth; a chemical abortion; or induced labour. A lot of parents choose to have their baby induced because there is a significant chance they will have the opportunity to go through labour and the birth and be afforded the opportunity to hold their child and spend whatever time they can with them. They also provide that child with warmth, care, love and everything else they can possibly do in the short moments while the child continues to live.
Until I had the briefing the other day I had not experienced a situation where I had been affected by this personally. Unlike Ms Hartland I do not have friends who have been affected. It has been thought provoking and emotional trying to comprehend just what it must be like for a parent to, on the one hand, be joyful, only to later find out that they have a pregnancy where there are very serious congenital abnormalities, with the added pressure of needing to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child, going through the physical and mental journey of a birth and, finally, being a grieving parent. That that is the reality for the parents of these 52 babies is beyond comprehension.
The motion refers to instances where parents have elected to have the birth of their baby induced, resulting in a live born baby. As Ms Hartland and Mr Tee pointed out, the babies will often die shortly after birth, but at least they have been afforded the opportunity to be in the arms of their parents.
These babies have been provided with palliative care, which means they are kept warm, well hydrated and pain free. In no way are they neglected or uncared for. I am quite affronted by the assertion that the reverse could be the case. These babies are not the result of failed abortions; rather, they are the known and intended outcomes of an induced labour.
Those 52 births are babies who are very much wanted, whose parents have known that their pre-born child would not be able to survive because the child’s condition was considered to be incompatible with life and in many cases in a highly vegetative state. That is a medical term, and not one that I necessarily warm to; however, it is a term that is recognised. Those parents have received specialist medical advice and have also been counselled through the issues. It is those parents who have chosen to go through labour so that they have the opportunity to hold their child and give that child as much comfort as they can before he or she passes away.
Giving birth to a child is an experience that is mostly one of elation and euphoria; that is the case for the vast majority of parents. I cannot imagine what it would be like to face a situation like the parents of those 52 babies. I cannot and will not speak on their behalf, but what I will say is that I cannot believe that we would contemplate putting those very parents who have had the unbearable experience of having a child die relive their grief through this proposed inquiry.
What we have here before us today is an outrageous proposition. I quote part 2 of the motion, where it says:
“… the death of every one of these babies in the period studied therefore suggests that they were neglected to death, if not deliberately killed.”
These sorts of ill-founded and emotive words imply, amongst other things, that the parents of those children are callous and cruel and have also undertaken a criminal act, when the exact opposite is the case. Instead of trying to understand the situation and demonstrating real compassion, I believe this motion — in its construct, its inaccuracies and its deliberate false allegations — is a direct attack on grieving parents and the professional and caring conduct of our medical professionals.
This motion implies that our medical and health professionals — our doctors, nurses, counsellors, administrators and medical specialists — are neglectful in their duties and are also uncaring, insensitive and perform illegal acts. I am disappointed that Mr Kavanagh has chosen to sponsor this motion. Mr Kavanagh and I disagree on many issues, but I would have thought that he would have at least checked the basic facts prior to sponsoring this motion.
I can only assume that the motion before us, in its blatant disregard of the truth and characterisation of this situation, is more about fostering misleading media reports and prompting sensationalist headlines leading up to the federal and state elections. That is why I felt compelled to speak against this motion tonight. I believe our political landscape deserves better. It is the sort of desperate politics played out in this motion that I believe harms Mr Kavanagh’s cause and, dare I say, dents his credibility.
I would like to quickly address a number of other comments that have been made by speakers who are supporting this motion. Firstly, I would like to reiterate that there is a difference between a late-term abortion and an induced birth due to serious birth defects, and that is what this motion is about. Secondly, these cases were not cases of the foetus, or the child, being disabled. These cases had major congenital abnormalities, most of which were inconsistent with life.
The report also provides two facts on these tragic cases. Referral for further investigation by the Parliament is just not necessary. These babies are not healthy newborn babies; they are very sick and are not expected to live.
In closing can I say that all the deaths recorded in the report have been overseen by the Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity. We know that the medical staff, the parents or anyone else involved in any of the situations outlined in the report can refer any matter they believe is questionable or unexpected to the coroner. It is the proper approach to refer these matters. It is highly inappropriate for such matters to be dealt with by a parliamentary committee. Matters such as these should be dealt with in the medical domain. I urge all members of the chamber to reject this motion. I look forward to the further debate.