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Euthanasia and palliative care


IN Australia we seem to be  constantly debating the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

It is as if the proponents of euthanasia want to simply wear down those opposed, by simply shouting loud and long enough. But we also see various members of the medical profession coming out and speaking in favour of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.

Some of these doctors are identified as being associated with palliative care medicine. This is something of a novelty as in the past those working in palliative care were strongly opposed to euthanasia.

So it is interesting that a month ago The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine issued its Position Statement on The Practice of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.  The statement appears to have received practically no coverage in the secular media.

The statement says quite bluntly: “The discipline of palliative medicine does not include the practice of euthanasia or assisted suicide”.

It also cites the statement from the World Medical Association: “The World Medical Association reaffirms its strong belief that euthanasia is in conflict with basis ethical principles of medical practice, and the World Medical Association strongly encourages all National Medical Associations and physicians to refrain from participating in euthanasia, even if national law allows it or decriminalises it under certain conditions.”

They are blunt statements from respected  bodies representing doctors. One suspects that if these bodies had made statements supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide, then the secular press would have paid them some attention. As they oppose euthanasia, they are ignored.

The position statement affirms that there is a clear distinction between good care for the dying and active interventions instituted in order to deliberately end the life of the patient. Unfortunately there are those in our community who try to muddy this clear distinction as a way of advancing the cause for euthanasia.

At around the same time as the position statement was released, some physicians from the Mayo Clinic in the USA published a paper on palliative care. In the paper they shared 10 things they wanted everyone to know about palliative care.

Amongst the 10 were: palliative care is appropriate at any stage of serious illness; palliative care can help address the emotional impact of serious illness on patient and families; palliative care enhances heath care value. Research supports that palliative care involvement helps lower health care costs and reduce hospital readmissions, and pharmacy and laboratory costs, while improving the quality of life and patient and family satisfaction. Our governments should take note of this last point.

Palliative care remains poorly understood in our community and poorly funded. As Palliative Care Queensland states “informed discussion about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is hindered by our failure as a society to guarantee access to quality care at the end of life”.

We need to help our elected representatives come to a better understanding of palliative medicine, and encourage them to devote more resources to it.

There are some complex questions around end-of-life issues, and I will seek to address some of those in future columns in The Catholic Leader.

Ray Campbell, Ph.D, is the  Queensland Bioethics Centre director.

Written by: Staff writers
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