By Yasmin Noone

Like it or not, the debate about voluntary euthanasia has more to do with palliative care workers more than any other sector professional because, in the event that the law is changed, they will be the ones most involved in hastening a person’s death, a ‘pro-choice’ advocate said. 

Australia’s peak body for aid-in-dying law reform, YourLastRight.com, is using National Palliative Care Week (22- 28 May) to reignite conversation about euthanasia, while emphasising the link between palliative care and assisted dying. 

The organisation, which is the national alliance for all state and territory ‘Dying with Dignity’ societies, believes that access to quality palliative care should go hand-in-hand with the availability of legal physician-assisted dying for terminally ill Australians.

And while Palliative Care Australia’s (PCA) official stance on the matter is that it neither supports nor opposes physician-assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia, the Dying with Dignity alliance says palliative care workers would play a major role in legally hastening a person’s death.

“There is a view amoung a cohort of palliative care workers that voluntary euthanasia has nothing to do with palliative care,” said YourLastRight.com chairman and CEO, Neil Francis.

“They are entitled to that view, although it is not one that I share.”

But, Mr Francis stressed, should voluntary euthanasia be legalised, participating in the termination of someone’s life “…would not be a [compulsory] part of a health care worker’s job description”.

“One of the important ethical factors in providing choice for patients who want to request voluntary euthanasia, is that there is also a choice for the health [or aged] care worker who declines to participate.

“Providing choice is important for palliative and other health care workers. If their world views are such that voluntary euthanasia is a travesty to them, then they should have the right to not participate.”

Mr Francis said that (pending a change in Australian law) the responsibility of hastening a person’s death would “not be entirely, but largely” borne by palliative care staff.

But, he said, the task would not come down to just one person. Instead, the process of ending someone’s life would mimic the system in Belgium (where voluntary euthanasia is now legal) and be carried out by a multidisciplinary team of medical and care professionals.

“One of the key things with voluntary euthanasia is that, if legalised, there would be a specialist group of doctors who would be specifically trained in these issues, so that any [other] doctor [or member of staff] could call upon them to discuss the issues involved.

“Belgium is also unique in that palliative care professionals didn’t oppose euthanasia law reform but instead engaged and helped to develop the law.”

Renewed call to change law

This week, YourLastRight.com renewed calls for legislative change to allow access to assisted dying for rational adults experiencing intolerable and unrelievable suffering from a terminal or advanced incurable illness.

Mr Francis said that to help those patients, “…politicians must change the law to allow rational adult patients to have choice and control over the end of their lives.”

If euthanasia was legalised, those who opposed the law would also have to choice to “simply ignore and reject it,” he said. “The law would not create compulsion on any individual but instead it would simply create choice on how to act.”

According to Mr Francis, the quality of palliative care in jurisdictions that have legalised aid-in-dying such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA states of Oregon and Washington, remains high and integrates well with aid-in-dying.

“[When a perso- in the countries above-chooses to hasten their death], family members usually gather around them and play their favorite music, reminisce over photo albums, exchange expressions of love and then the patient takes the medication.”

A concern expressed by opponents of voluntary euthanasia is that legalisation would lead to non-voluntary euthanasia (hastening death without a current explicit request from the patient).

However, Mr Francis said, published research shows non-voluntary euthanasia is practiced in Australia (where there are no euthanasia laws) at five times the rate of the Netherlands (where there is).

“In the Netherlands and Belgium, the rate of non-voluntary euthanasia has decreased (not increased) since their euthanasia laws came into effect in 2002.

“…Obviously there are a range of world views around the community. The law [in Australia] currently respects the view of a small minority and currently denies the world view of the majority of Australians.

“The most important thing to do now is to have the discussion about voluntary euthanasia. Dying and death are not issues that are popular. You can’t just stand around the barbie, throw on a snag and talk about euthanasia and death.

“I warmly congratulate PCA for their campaign in National Palliative Care Week, [which aims] to engage the community in the topic and creating conversation.”

Mr Francis said he is available to discuss the topic of voluntary euthanasia with anyone who would like to do so. For more details, visit YourLastRight.com

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11 Comments

  1. thawy, if you don’t believe in VOLUNTARY euthanasia, you don’t have to adopt it when your time comes. But you really have to justify why others should be denied their right to a dignified death if they so wish. Provided there is no compulsion on the individual and the health professionals involved as clearly explained by Your Last Right, this is a perfectly straightforward situation and the business of no one else.

  2. I wont to make my own decision on how to end my life. I don’t accept meddling by religious groups. I leave them free to choose their own way to end their life. Politicians are supposed to represent their electorate; what we see is they represent their religious views. Not acceptable.

  3. Voluntary euthanasia is obviously a valid and desirable philosophical concept which will hopefully soon be legalized.
    My concern is that the legislation may require that the person electing to be euthanized must be in full possession of his/her senses at the time of euthanization. This would seem reasonable to prevent unwilling but mentally incompetent persons being euthanized. However many people, including myself, have a horror of being kept alive when I do not wish it, but am too far gone to be able to fulfill this requirement. The net result is that many may choose to commit suicide before they really want to die to avoid this horror.
    So the legislation should permit a legal document to be signed setting out the conditions under which a person is to be euthanized, regardless of their mental competence at the time (unless of course they say they have changed their mind).
    Ken Day

  4. I have had six family members passed-away with cancer and i don’t wish for any one to go through what i went through seeing them in so much pain and could-not do a thing for them i do think the law should come in to let people get out of the pain what comes with cancer to be euthanasia one of the family member was my husband that had cancer to see him in so much pain was something would not want to see it again. My pop just before he passed away did not know how i was and having my nan going through a lot. IT IS A BIG YES FROM ME TO BRING IN THE LAW LET PEOPLE NOT GO THROUGH THE PAIN LET THEM BE EUTHANASIA.we take a dog or a cat to vets have them put sleep when they have to be done why not the same with people.

  5. I am all for euthanasia, people should be able to have a say in what people want to do in there own life unless ofcourse they are going throught the exact same problem. 🙂

  6. people should be allowed to be eauthanised without having to go through the pain

    LEGALISE EUTHANASIA!!!

  7. Keeping voluntary euthanasia illegal, I believe, is a bit absurd. I mean, if you were going through an immense amount of pain and suffering due to a terminal illness, you should have the right to terminate your life and not have to go through this anymore. Also, just like the articles says so, if you are against voluntary euthanasia, you can just ignore the law, rather than ban it for everyone altogether. I believe that is very selfish. Also,when you are looking at whether you want to oppose or side with voluntary euthanasia, you should pay particular attention to the word: VOLUNTARY.

  8. Anyone opposed to voluntary euthanasia could not possibly have witnessed the devastating experience of watching a loved one slowly die in palliative care. I have. My darling wife, who meant more to me than life itself, was gradually dosed with morphine until she could take neither soft food nor water. Her death certificate shows that the prime cause of death was “major organ failure” !!! Antecedent cause was pancreatic cancer, sure,, but the failure of major organs being th prime cause of death was hardly surprising when denial of water for fear of choking extended beyond that which any body was capable of maintaining. Why? The doctor wanted to help relieve her pain, but how could he when under the possible threat of malpractice? Also, howe could he expect an answer from her when she had been drugged, starved & prevented from taking any fluid for so many days? He could only continue increasing the morphine dosage in slow steps, for his own sake, until she died. Slow euthanasia, I would call it. PLEASE give doctors the authority to set the dosage high enough to do the job properly assisting the patient to die when the patient knows that the end is nigh, without prolonging the effects of starvation turning their body into that of a concentration camp victim. I will never ever forget seeing that happen to my darling. All Australians deserve better than that, and incidentally, I share that same belief with most of my fellow Christians.

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