No to Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Australia
The conversation around euthanasia and assisted suicide is heating up in Australia. Across the country, legislators are considering end of life choices and proposals to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia.
The latest report handed down by Victorian State Parliament's Legal and Social Issues Committee has recommended the legalisation of assisted dying for people suffering from serious and incurable conditions. The report recommends amendments to the Crimes Act to “allow adults with decision-making capacity, suffering from a serious and incurable condition who are at the end of life, to be provided assistance to die in certain circumstances.”
The report also recommends certain ‘safeguards’ such as, a request for assisted suicide must be approved by the patient’s doctor and an independent second doctor.
Other countries experiences reveal however, there can never be enough ‘safeguards.’ We can never really ensure that the introduction of legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia will not lead to the killing of people whom the law never intended to die.
In 2002, voluntary euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands for individuals with a terminal illness and intolerable suffering. This legislation then progressed to include individuals with no physical illness at all, but with mental health problems, such as depression. In 2005, the Groningen Protocol was legalised which allowed for the killing of disabled new born babies. Since 2009, individuals over 70 years of age who do not have any illness, but are simply ‘tired of life,’ can avail of assisted suicide.
We should not be so naïve that the same process will not occur in regard to any suggested parameters or limitations on the law in Australia.
The introduction of assisted suicide or euthanasia could also significantly change the nature of medical practice and the doctor’s role, which is, first of all, to do no harm. In the Victorian proposal, assisted suicide would involve a doctor prescribing a lethal drug, which the patient could then take without further assistance. This depends of course, on the patient’s ability to do this, if the patient is physically unable, then the doctor would then be allowed to physically assist.
Professor Rob George, Consultant Physician in Palliative Care in the United Kingdom, suggests that interfering in the dying process through assisted suicide “completely reclassifies the role of medicine.” Assisting someone to commit suicide “changes society fundamentally” it involves reclassifying the intentional ending of a person’s life, at their request, as “a societal mandated good”.
The introduction of assisted suicide or euthanasia could also create a scenario where vulnerable individuals such as the elderly or those living with a disability, feel coerced into ending their lives too soon. For example, some people may feel that they are a burden on their children who have to provide them care or financial support. Others may feel that they are a burden on the State, using up precious medical resources. To this end, the existing laws in Australia currently act to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
This debate provides a real opportunity for us to evaluate what are some positive alternatives to assisted suicide and euthanasia, and what we can do to care for those at the end of their lives.
Mr Paul Russell, President of HOPE International, an organisation preventing euthanasia and assisted suicide, highlights that from the submissions received by the Victorian State committee, it is clear that there is no mandate for assisted suicide from the public. What people really want is better care.
It is fundamental that we provide appropriate alternatives for those who are terminally ill or facing intolerable suffering. We need to be investing more for example, in our health care services such as palliative care mobile teams so that adequate services can be provided in the home, to allow those who wish to die at home, to do so.
Palliative care services need to commence earlier on the patients care journey so that patients and their families can be actively involved in their treatment plans. This will ensure that patients' values, goals and preferences are reflected in their care plans. Such services should also aim to address any concerns or fears that the patient may have. Being better involved in the care plan, better equipped with knowledge of what is happening, and having wishes respected, such as discontinuation of medical treatment when medical treatment is futile, can bring a greater sense of control and dignity in death for the patient.
With the forthcoming Federal election we have not yet seen any of the major parties promoting euthanasia as a public policy issue. Yet, it could well be our next elected politicians who are called on to decide whether to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide across the country. Please sign here to send a strong message to all the Premiers and Leaders of the Opposition in each State and Territory, that we oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.