Euthanasia, a cheaper alternative warns expert
As the Senate commences debating the Leyonhjelm Assisted Suicide Bill, it should heed the wise words of Professor Margaret Somerville who point out that the international experience demonstrated that euthanasia was being used as a cheaper alternative to psychiatric and palliative care and that it would be a social tragedy if we allow assisted suicide legislation to pass.
Bioethics professor calls on Senate to reject assisted dying bill
An Australian medical ethicist who spent decades observing euthanasia in Canada has called on the Senate to reject a bill that would clear the way for voluntary assisted dying to be legalised across Australia.
Bioethics Professor Margaret Somerville, from the University of Notre Dame's school of medicine, said the international experience demonstrated that euthanasia was being used as a cheaper alternative to psychiatric and palliative care.
"It's a societal tragedy if we allow this," she said.
The federal Senate will this week debate a private member’s bill brought by Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm, which would enable the ACT and Northern Territory to make their own laws on voluntary assisted dying.
It comes after two children, aged nine and 11, were last week revealed as the world's youngest to be euthanised in Belgium, the only country that allows minors who are terminally ill and in "unbearable suffering" to choose to die.
Victoria last year became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying, with Premier Daniel Andrews describing the passage of the reform as "a day of compassion".
But Professor Somerville and nine of her international counterparts argue that voluntary assisted dying has gone beyond its aims of relieving pain and suffering, and is being misused.
In a paper published in the Journal of Palliative Care, the academics wrote that euthanasia should not be legal, and should never be performed by physicians in countries where it is permitted.
"It is not justifiable to allow physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia to grant the wishes of a few with difficult-to-relieve suffering at the expense of the rights and protections of others, especially vulnerable people who have no voice," the paper said.
"Solutions for suffering lie in improving palliative care and addressing social causes, and remedying the reasons patients request assisted suicide or euthanasia."
Professor Somerville said the assurance by early proponents of euthanasia that it would not lead to a "slippery slope" had been proven wrong, with research showing that safeguards were being routinely violated.
"In one study in Belgium, they surveyed doctors and found that 32 per cent had gone outside of the regulations," she said.
While originally only available to consenting adults, voluntary assisted dying has in some countries been extended to young children, the mentally ill and even newborn babies.
In January, a 29-year-old physically healthy Dutch woman with mental illness died after drinking poison supplied by a doctor in a medically assisted death.
Professor Somerville said that in many cases, pain and suffering were not the primary motivator for an assisted dying request, with a fear of being a burden on relatives a more common reason in patient surveys.
And, she argued, in most cases pain or discomfort could be remedied through proper palliative care, including treatment for depression, which was a factor for many terminal cancer patients.