WA Palliative Care Specialists oppose assisted suicide
Twenty two leading Western Australian palliative care specialists who between them "have been privileged to care for tens of thousands of patients and their families" have co-signed an open letter explaining their strong, united opposition to the proposal to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide in Western Australia.
The proposal to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide involves a massive change in the ethics of our society. “Do not kill” is a foundational ethical principle which has been observed by every civilisation for thousands of years. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not medical treatments, and most emphatically not part of palliative care.
Unlike euthanasia, palliative care aims to provide total care (body, mind and spirit) for patients and support for their families.
With modern medications and procedures we can almost always control symptoms. In extreme cases, at the request of a dying patient and his or her family, we have occasionally used deep sedation to control symptoms that did not respond to the usual treatment.
The specialists explain how requests for euthanasia are driven by existential concerns such as loneliness and how holistic palliative care can respond to these concerns.
Rarely, a patient will say to us, “doctor, I just want to end it all”. Contrary to popular opinion, the reason for such requests is not pain, but despair and loneliness, also called “existential suffering”. Euthanasia is not a treatment for despair and existential suffering. Provision of holistic care by a skilled interdisciplinary team of health professionals enables patients and families to acknowledge and attend to distress within themselves and their relationships. The time before death offers unique opportunities for psychospiritual growth and allows for healing even without a cure.
The palliative care experts also point out that:
Western Australia has the lowest proportion of specialist palliative care doctors of any state in Australia. We have 15 full-time equivalents for the state, less than one third the number required to meet national benchmarks. According to the Honourable Jim Chown, whose motion was supported unanimously, WA needs at least another $100 million per year spent on palliative care for staffing and education, in addition to funding for infrastructure such as palliative care wards and beds.
The open letter concludes:
We do not believe euthanasia or assisted suicide are solutions to suffering. We reaffirm our commitment to our patients: we will continue to care for you to the best of our ability, guided by your choices, but we will not kill you.
Read the whole letter here