The floor is open for debate

The euthanasia debate is alive and well, as Alzheimer’s Australia throws the issue out into the open.

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.”

Tags: aged, aged-care, ageing, alzheimers-australia, assisted-suicide, assisted-voluntary-euthanasia, colleen-cartwright, dementia, end of life, euthanasia, glenn-rees, ita-buttrose, physician-assisted-suicide, planning-for-the-end-of-life-for-people-with-dementia, southern-cross-university, terminal-sedation,

3 thoughts on “The floor is open for debate

  1. I think it is excellent that these discussions and debates are at hand.
    My grandmother had Alzheimer’s in the 1970’s
    My 85 year old mother (her daughter) is in the,late stages of Alzheimer’s at present. She has been suffering with the disease for 9 years and would not wish to be in this state.
    I recall her wishing for her mother’s suffering to end …and now find myself in the same position ..of wishing my own mothers suffering to end. Euthanasia would be a wonderful thing to end her suffering and would have been her request as well..

  2. I for one don’t see why the debate over euthanasia needs to be one centered around dementia in any case. The end of life process will be individual for each individual regardless of the reason or disease. The debate should be more focused around what is already accepted and evidence based practice, what laws do we consider here and what legal process wil be chosen by the democratic society that chooses to have this concept included as a choice in end of life. The debate should be focused on pro choice and process.

  3. The Complex and Interwoven issues surrounding this whole question, whether the person has dementia or not, has to be addressed as soon as possible by the Powers that Be….. Science and Research have been a great boon in many areas of living on this planet, and human kind have benefited enormously. Having said that, one of the questions we must address is what we mean by Living…If living means that our hearts are beating, and we are breathing, yes, that’s living, and science has invented medicines, procedures, and devices to keep us breathing and our hearts beating….but that is not all that Life is about, and Governments must enter this debate and work hard and long to achieve some
    guidelines, and that’s all it will be guidelines, because of the complexity of the issue, in order for those who wish it, to enable them to have choices in their end of life care. If there is a family history of dementia, then these people would be well advised to address this issue before they lose capacity. If there is no history of dementia, I think everyone over 80 years of age, should be required to make their wishes known in a legal sense before they get too much older. There are far too many people in the older age bracket, suffering and with no choices, because they weren’t encouraged to give the matter any thought whilst they still could.

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