By Stephen Easton
Alzheimer’s Australia has just released the second half of a two-part report, Planning for the End of Life for People with Dementia, this time focusing on providing information about both sides of the complex and contentious euthanasia debate.
Part one of the report, prepared by Southern Cross University’s Professor Colleen Cartwright, looked at issues within the existing legal environment such as palliative care, refusal of treatment, pain control, resuscitation, residential care, advance financial planning and enduring power of attorney.
Ms Cartwright provides three slightly different definitions of euthanasia, all of which include the basic components of a deliberate act where a person such as a doctor causes a person’s death at their request.
The report uses the term ‘assisted voluntary euthanasia’ (AVE) to cover both this and physician-assisted suicide (PAS), where a doctor provides a person with the means to end their life, but does not carry out the act.
Other end-of-life situations are listed under ‘what euthanasia is not’, such as respecting a person’s right to refuse further treatment or turning off life support systems that are no longer providing any benefit.
“There are many people who do not understand the definitions or what is considered euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide,” Professor Cartwright said.
“Giving pain relief which may also shorten life, respecting a patient’s right to refuse treatment, withholding or withdrawing futile life-support systems and, finally, terminal sedation are all currently legal options and they are not forms of euthanasia.”
Terminal sedation, according to Ms Cartwright, “refers to the use of sedative drugs to induce unconsciousness in terminally ill patients in order to relieve suffering, including anxiety, when other attempts at relief have failed”.
Alzheimer’s Australia CEO, Glenn Rees, said the intention of the two-part report was to cover all of the many complex, interwoven issues that affect people in the late stages of dementia and their carers.
“What we wanted to do with the publication was to cover all the issues in end of life including euthanasia,” Mr Rees said, “because we feel that if you think about end of life, you have to think about palliative care along with euthanasia; they’re not separate things.”
“Every person is unique and the decisions they’ll want to take [at the end of their life] willl depend on their personality…religion, spirituality, culture, family circumstances, and their personal values.
“People need to have an understanding of the issues involved.”
In a statement released accompanying the report, Alzheimer’s Australia’s President, Ita Buttrose, made it clear the organisation does not take a side in the debate.
“Alzheimer’s Australia does not have a position on euthanasia,” Ms Buttrose said.
“We take the view that the debate on euthanasia is clouded in confusion. The intention of this paper is not to tell people what view they should take but rather to provide clear information about the debate and to provide an overview of the complex issues dementia raises in respect of euthanasia.”