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Doctors warn legalising euthanasia could target and harm vulnerable older people

Vulnerable: Doctors in Queensland have warned of how vulnerable older people could feel pressured if euthanasia was legalised.

DOCTORS have warned the introduction of voluntary euthanasia laws could be used to target vulnerable older people, and put pressure on those who might consider themselves a burden to others.

“As a society we should be judged on our support of a sick, vulnerable and frail elderly,” Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine Queensland president Dr Chrys Pulle said.

He was one of several leading medical practitioners who spoke out against euthanasia during a parliamentary hearing in Brisbane on July 4, part of a year-long inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care, and voluntary assisted dying.

Dr Pulle said the introduction of VAD laws would convey the message that suicide was the preferred option in some circumstances, “placing pressure on frail older people who may feel they’re a burden on others”.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Dilip Dhupelia said if VAD was legalised, vulnerable elderly people could become a target.

“People can be coerced, and just because there’s a law in Queensland, for them to feel that the community wants them to take their lives and that they’re a burden to the community,” Dr Dhupelia said.

“What are the majority of Queenslanders really seeking in the push for physician-assisted dying? 

“We contend that they actually want to be reassured that they will die in comfort and dignity alongside their loved ones and, most importantly, with a level of self-determination and autonomy, which they currently do not feel they have.”

Dr Dhupelia said the AMAQ did not believe doctors should be involved in ending a person’s life.

Dr Pulle warned he did not believe the Queensland health system was ready for the “tsunami” of elderly patients who would need services in the coming years.

“We need … education of the wider public, as well as older people … what expectations we’re likely to face once we’ve been diagnosed with a chronic neurodegenerative disease, or chronic pain condition,” he said.

AMAQ ethics committee chair Dr Chris Moy said voluntary euthanasia could lead to unintended consequences.

“You’re opening up the issue of value of life, that’s not just from other people imposing their values of life onto individuals, which is a problem, but the second part is individuals starting to value their lives in a different way as well,” he said.

“It may not just be elderly, these are disabled, these are children, you’re opening it up.”

The inquiry is examining what a VAD scheme could look like in Queensland, including what safeguards would be needed to protect vulnerable people, and whether medical practitioners could conscientiously object.

The inquiry will also examine Victoria’s VAD scheme that started last month.

The next public hearings of the aged-care inquiry are in Hervey Bay on July 15, Bundaberg on July 16, and Rockhampton on July 17.

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