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Professor Margaret Somerville warns Queenslanders of false claims about euthanasia

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Concerns: Catholic bioethicist Margaret Somerville has warned Queenslanders of the dangerous long-term consequences for societies that allow euthanasia.

LEADING Catholic bioethicist Margaret Somerville has warned Queenslanders of the dangerous long-term consequences for societies that allow euthanasia.

As assisted suicide became legal in Victoria last week, Professor Somerville addressed the Cherish Life Queensland annual conference in Brisbane.

She posed the question: “We need to ask ourselves: if euthanasia is permitted, how do we think our great-great-grandchildren will die? 

“What kind of society will we have left to them?  

“Will it be one in which no reasonable person would want to live?”

Professor Somerville, from the University of Notre Dame Australia, warned of  “the slippery slope of death”, and revealed how pro-euthanasia advocates argued their case as “just an incremental change and no different from medical treatments we already accept”.

“Legalising euthanasia represents a seismic shift in our fundamental societal values,” Professor Somerville said.

“History will see what we decide about it as having been one of the defining events of the first decades of the 21st century and possibly the entire century for our western democratic societies in terms of each one’s shared collective values.”

Queensland is holding an inquiry into aged care and end-of-life issues,  including palliative care and voluntary assisted dying, with a report due to go to parliament in November.

Among hundreds of public written submissions is a document from Queensland’s six Catholic bishops calling for a protection of human dignity in the face of a strong public push to legalise voluntary assisted dying.

“A law that would allow direct intentional killing (‘voluntary assisted dying’), even if only under strict circumstances, opens the way to a culture in which life is disposable,” the bishops said in a joint submission on behalf of the Church.

“In such a society, even the provision of medical care can become subjected to a rationalisation of the worthiness of a particular person to receive it.”

Cherish Life Queensland executive director Teeshan Johnson said the State Government should be focused on providing quality palliative care, with specialist doctors and nurses, especially in regional Queensland hospitals.

“It’s borderline criminal,” she said. “The outcry for euthanasia is a symptom of not investing in palliative care.

“This Labor Government seems hell bent on death.” 

Dr Margaret Somerville: “Euthanasia is not medical treatment. ” Photo: Gerard Williams, University of Notre Dame

Professor Somerville said another of the false arguments used by euthanasia proponents was that there was no difference between “terminal sedation” and “palliative sedation”, already being used.

“When used correctly as part of palliative care, palliative sedation is not euthanasia,” she said.

“The person dies a natural death from their underlying illness.

“In palliative sedation as part of standard palliative care, physicians often allow the patient to become conscious from time to time and use the lightest possible sedation consistent with relieving suffering.

“As well, it’s only used as a last resort and not often.”

Professor Somerville said euthanasia advocates euphemistically described it as “medical treatment” and “medically assisted death”. 

“Euthanasia is not medical treatment because it is irreconcilable with medicine’s mandate to heal,” she said.

“Physicians don’t see euthanasia as medical treatment and are one of the most opposed groups to euthanasia.”

Professor Somerville said in the Netherlands “mobile euthanasia units” were a response to doctors refusing to undertake the practice.

While 63 per cent of the Dutch public would condone euthanasia for people with dementia, only six per cent of physicians supported it.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Colombia and Luxembourg.

This month Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher copped criticism from euthanasia advocates after releasing a video on his Facebook page with a claim that in Belgium one person had been euthanised “every three days without their explicit consent”.

He also said that in more than half of assisted-suicide cases in Belgium the patient never expressed a desire for their life to end, and that the reason given in more than half of cases was that killing the patient was the wish of the family.

A spokeswoman for Sydney archdiocese said it stood by the video claims.

“Euthanasia was originally sold to voters in countries such as Belgium as a voluntary option for a narrow group of terminally ill patients, but has resulted in a cascade of deaths where unconscious and non-consenting patients have been killed by doctors,” she said.

“Australians are rightly shocked when they are given the data of euthanasia deaths overseas and they have the right to know the consequences of enacting such legislation.”

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