By Yasmin Noone

Adelaide-based gynaecologist, Dr Rosemary Jones, doesn’t believe that voluntary euthanasia ‘may’ one day be legalised. She feels confident that it’s a question of ‘when’.

As an active member of the three-year-old Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice national lobby group, Dr Jones works with 89 other Australian medical professionals to advocate for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

Now, she calls on other doctors throughout the country to sign up, support the cause and become a member of the minority group in favour of legal assisted dying.

“We are not a group of people who propose to implement euthanasia,” Dr Jones said. 

“We are not practitioners of assistive dying. All we are interested in is influencing events to bring about the legalisation of euthanasia.”

“We stand for a group of doctors distressed about the small number of patients, who, at the point of death, get no relief from palliative care.

“We thoroughly endorse the practice of palliative care for 95 per cent of all palliative care [patients] and understand that for five per cent, there are persistent problems beyond relief provided for by palliative care.

“We don’t contest the major role of palliative care but do see that assisted dying is a part and parcel of the end [goal] of palliative care.”

The national group aims to add its weight to lobbying for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia in Australia, mostly by writing politicians letters and via the use of other campaign tools.

Dr Jones said ideally, she would like the membership base of the somewhat controversial organisation to hit 60,000. Always a realist, she adds, she would be happy if the group achieved 34,000.

“Realistically, if we get a couple of thousand names, it would be fine. Not every doctor wants to have their name on a website and letters put to politicians.

“But, if you scratched the numbers hard enough, the majority of the medical community would support legalising voluntary euthanasia.”

That’s because, she explained, medical professionals “see a lot of sadness and unnecessary suffering”. If voluntary euthanasia was legal and it was the wish of the dying, Dr Jones believes that most doctors would euthanize under instruction and in the right circumstances.

This is why the organisation has decided to spread the word about its motives in a Medical Journal of Australia article published earlier this week.

Entitled, Doctors in support of law reform for voluntary euthanasia, the article explains why the group believes legalised voluntary euthanasia would help provide options for a comfortable and dignified end-to-life for all Australians, not just some.

“Members lobby for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia, so that people who are
suffering and who will continue to suffer have the right to request assistance to die gently and, if possible, at a time they choose,” the MJA article states.

“[The medical practitioner’s obligation] ‘to preserve life’ will sometimes be contrary to a patient’s rational and persistent request to die. Further, although the doctor may ‘try to ensure that death occurs with dignity and comfort’, this desirable outcome does not always occur.”

Voluntary euthanasia now exists in several European countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland – and some states of the United States.

Palliative Care Australia’s position on voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide does not formally support or oppose legalisation of the practice.

However, it believes that community interest in voluntary euthanasia is sparked by a need for assurance that pain and suffering will be relieved and that individual end-of-life decisions will be respected.

“Many of these community fears can be addressed through the provision of quality care at the end-of-life that includes the opportunity for the individual to articulate care preferences for circumstances in which they may no longer be able to express their wishes,” the Palliative Care Australia position statement reads.

“…The Australian community needs to embark on a dialogue about death and dying in order to accept that dying is a natural and expected part of life. Engagement in advance care planning will greatly contribute to this dialogue.”

For information about the lobby group, Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice, visit www.drs4vechoice.org

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15 Comments

  1. Having just seen my mum suffer through three and a half years of Alzheimer’s anguish, terror and inevitable death I am a strong supporter of voluntary euthanasia.

  2. I am not a doctor, but my business Rehab Assist supplying transfer & positioning aids to the Healthcare industry gives me a first hand perspective. In addition my grandmother had no cognitive awareness for about 8 years she lay in a hospital bed as a skeleton loosely wrapped in skin. It is my opinion that we keep people in a manner that if animals were kept the same way, the owners would be charged with cruelty.
    I turn 60 next month, for at least the last 30 years it has been my intention to terminate my own life by whatever means possible at the first signs that I might be forced to endure the same circumstances.
    In the event there is a legalised option it will only serve to lengthen my life as I will be willing to risk living until I can no longer perform independent action.
    I fully support your lobby and petition.
    Harold Lubansky
    Managing Director
    Rehab Assist Pty Ltd

  3. I am a proud advocate for the right for Australians to have the choice to volentary euthanasia….however I am also an advocate for this to be regualted controlled and professionally clinically supervised by medical/nursing/allied health professioanls. Lets not get silly with this.

  4. Humanity in its desperate attempt to either achieve its deity nature or in order to make decisions of its fate or because does not wish disturbances or disruptions of its comfort zone, had invented a “final solution” that ostensibly would alleviate such issues by means of playing the role of the “Supreme Being”. That guise was named – euthanasia.

    Life is uniquely given gift; for some through a biological reaction, and for others by our Creator, whatever we conceive Him (or Her) to be. This ultimate gift does not just sustain or preserve our entire world – physical and human, it creates individual entities such as plants, animals and humans.

    For this to be comprehended, let us take as an example Graham Bell the scientist who created this amazing technological achievement called telephone (something we all enjoy!). His invention was not just a retrospective personal venture that benefited a narrow sphere of people or scientists. His invention was and remains to be a remarkable discovery and benefit to the human race.

    It is propounded now that if Graham Bell had decided that his invention was a failure, something perhaps that humanity does not really need, or that it was a miscalculation, a twist of technological nature and he terminated its creation, would we have the ability today to contact anywhere on the planet whoever we pleased? If Graham Bell would have taken such a decision he would have not have affected just his future, colleagues, family or akin. This would have affected the whole of human kind as well as the technological future of this world.

    Adherently some may argue with the example and say: If we have been given the gift of procreating life or create science, therefore we also have the God given right to suspend it also. I would accede with them if we lived in a world where all decisions that concern ourselves can be taken innocuously unbiased and if we could also say that we had the ability to think straight and clear of what is best for us and for others of our close related environment.

    Overarching, if I was a pragmatist, I would argue that the example of Graham Bell is merely the overall spectrum of the point and a scientist who conceives an invention has the right to terminate it. On the other hand if I was a spiritualist I would argue that we are all created by God therefore we have no say in the inception or termination of our lives, as well as others’. But no matter what opinionated angle we choose to take in comprehending this example, we would both agree in one issue: Graham Bell was the direct and undisputable creator of his invention – but, although humans are the mediators of life procreation, at the same time they are not the creator.

    Concluding, I felt the best person to take me into the core of such question would be a father or a mother that had to switch off the life support machine of their newly born son or daughter who, according to medical scientists, had no chance of survival. Then, I looked at myself and asked. What did you feel when five years ago you were faced with the dilemma of switching off this technological invention that was sustaining the life of your newly-born deformed son? A tear drops, touches my heart and answers: If I only had the power to give life with the same way I was taking it away.
    Arana Hokianga
    Community Care Services Manager – Yaandina Family Centre

  5. I suggest readers consider carefully Palliative Care Australia’s statement – “it believes that community interest in voluntary euthanasia is sparked by a need for assurance that pain and suffering will be relieved and that individual end of life decisions will be respected”. Very true, but it goes on to state “Many of these community concerns can be addressed through the provision of quality care…”. Again true, but it is those persons outside “the many” (Dr Jones’5%, a conservative figure) who want greater certainty and control. The community, in my opinion wants to feel that ALL those concerns will be met. I do not want to be, or have to treat inadequately, one of those 5%.

  6. VE is humane and merciful. You just need to watch one patient suffer from cancer where pain medication is no longer relieving the pain to know that to die with dignity is a blessing.

    I applaud Australia for recognizing her people’s needs and are working towards the legalization of VE. I hope all of the U.S. follows suit!

  7. ….I agree. with Dr Rosemary Jones, it is a matter of “when”,the groundswell will be so great that notice will have to be taken of the large numbers of people suffering with Alzheimers/Dementia alone, and of course the noisy vocal minority and religious groups will have to eventually be ignored….Tony Hogben…Bribie Island, Queensland………
    ………www.adbi.com.au

  8. The work of Dr Jan Bernheim in Belguim has shown that the palliative care services and Belguim improved with the introduction of voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is often misrepresented in as much as the word “voluntary” is dropped from the subject. The patient is already dying and what they want is control over this very important and last event of their life. At the moment no choice is available in Australia and dying and distressed patients are forced, by those who are frightened by the freedom of choice, to endure the unendurable.

  9. I am now 73 and in good health BUT by the age of 40 I had lost many many friends and family members to many incurable diseases and conditions like MND and horrible cancers.One friend aged 44 with a brain tumour begged us to end her suffering.We couldn’t and nor could the medical profession. After she died her loving husband who had nursed her lovingly and endured her changed personality from a happy loving wife into a foul mouthed abusive virago, committed suicide 6 weeks later. I was involved in many of their dying processes and knew that from that moment on I would actively campaign for the legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying as I knew that I would NEVER willingly accept such a fate for myself nor ever wish for my beloved family to have to endure the terrible pain of having to stand helplessly witnessing such awful pain. I remember my friends with great love but the memories of their horrendous lengthy dying have never left me.

  10. I think all aged care facilities must have air conditioning. Even within the community the aged should not have to endure extreme temperatures. Aged care has had tremendous reforms and has been keeping up to date although with a nursing shortage and pcas supposedly supervised by nurses, well? Voluntary uthanasia, well have seen such faith that I never recognized existed. Spirituality is so lacking in aged care facilities. And I have seen nurses talk derogatorily about doctors like its a two sided thing. Hey doctors were trying to cure our grandmothers children, think about it. This movement must been given the exactness it deserves. I will listen and support those who know much more than I do. I won’t just add my voice. This subject must be given the utmost respect. I so often see old people stressed; looked after by young people complaining about their stress.

  11. As all nurses do, I have HUNDREDS of stories about unnecessary suffering. I agree that it is a matter of WHEN volntary euthanasia will be introduced. Polls indicate that most Australians recognise that safe, legal, non-traumatic death for those who want it, because of terrible suffering is honest, ethical, moral and … going to happen.

  12. Really, in all honesty I do not understand how it is still illegal… how can people be so scared and so opposed to dying with dignity. A life isn’t a true ‘life’ if it is low on quality that the only thing the person gets from it is suffering. To me, that is nothing but absolute hell. It makes me physically ill to think of all the poor people out there who have to endure prolonged pain and suffering just because people do not wish to understand the benefits of euthanasia.

  13. My father has asbestosis of the lungs and is suffering terribly. My mother has dementia and dad was her carer up until he became so sick in January that he had to be hospitalised. Mum was given a permanent place in an aged care facility and apart from her dementia, her general health is good and she has settled in well. Dad is another story….his health has continued to deteriorate. He has been in respite care since coming out of hospital at the end of January and took a turn for the worse at Easter and was rushed back to hospital, where he still remains. Not only has his lungs and breathing worsened, he has a horrible itchy rash all over his body and is shedding skin like a snake. He has also lost his eyesight and can no longer read, watch TV or use his computer. He eats very little as he constantly vomits and his weight has plummeted to 52 kg, he was 85 kg 12 months ago. All in all, he’s in a very bad way. I visit him in hospital daily and all he can talk about is that he’s had enough and would like to go to sleep and not wake up. He’s asked the nurses and Dr’s if they can give him medication as he doesn’t want to live like this. My father just turned 80, whilst in hospital and he has lead a very active social life and he hates not being able to walk, to see and most of all, not being able to look after mum or be with her. I totally agree with how he feels and I wish I could do something about it but unfortunately, the legislation and law does not permit any intervention. I hate seeing my father suffer like this and hope that he will go peacefully in his sleep sooner rather than later and die with just a little of the dignity he has left.My father has asbestosis of the lungs and is suffering terribly. My mother has dementia and dad was her carer up until he became so sick in January that he had to be hospitalised. Mum was given a permanent place in an aged care facility and apart from her dementia, her general health is good and she has settled in well. Dad is another story….his health has continued to deteriorate. He has been in respite care since coming out of hospital at the end of January and took a turn for the worse at Easter and was rushed back to hospital, where he still remains. Not only has his lungs and breathing worsened, he has a horrible itchy rash all over his body and is shedding skin like a snake. He has also lost his eyesight and can no longer read, watch TV or use his computer. He eats very little as he constantly vomits and his weight has plummeted to 52 kg, he was 85 kg 12 months ago. All in all, he’s in a very bad way. I visit him in hospital daily and all he can talk about is that he’s had enough and would like to go to sleep and not wake up. He’s asked the nurses and Dr’s if they can give him medication as he doesn’t want to live like this. My father just turned 80, whilst in hospital and he has lead a very active social life and he hates not being able to walk, to see and most of all, not being able to look after mum or be with her. I totally agree with how he feels and I wish I could do something about it but unfortunately, the legislation and law does not permit any intervention. I hate seeing my father suffer like this and hope that he will go peacefully in his sleep sooner rather than later and die with just a little of the dignity he has left.

  14. I HAVE RECENTLY SEEN MY MOTHER IN LAW GO THROUGH DEMENTIA IN A NURSING HOME AND IT WAS ONE OF THE WORSE EXPERIENCES I HAVE EVER HAD, YES, I HAVE HAD, SO IMAGINE WHAT SHE WAS GOING THROUGH NO HUMAN BEING SHOULD GO THROUH THAT . I VISISTED HER NEARLY EVERY DAY BUT IT WAS VERY HARD NOT ONLY TO SEE HER BUT ALL THE OTHERS GOING THROUGH THEIR JOURNEY OF DYING SOME WITH DIGNITY SOME WITH NO DIGNITY AT ALL. AND THEY SHOULD BE GIVEN SOME RESPECT BY HAVING A CHOICE OF WHEN IT IS TIME TO GO. I WILL NOT BE PUTTING MY FAMILY THROUGH THAT I CAN ONLY HOPE.

  15. Does any one know of an active lobby group in sydney or NSW, in terms of lobbying the euthanasia cause?

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