The Australian state of Victoria is looking to legalize euthanasia in 2017, which would make it the first state in the country to do. Photo courtesy of Donald Tong, public domain

Doctors warn Australian state against legalizing euthanasia

  • December 8, 2016

MELBOURNE, Australia – The government of the Australian state of Victoria is looking to legalize euthanasia in 2017, but physicians have warned of the risk of diminishing palliative care, already under-utilized and underfunded.

A committee of Victorian Members of Parliament recommended in June legalizing voluntary euthanasia under limited circumstances, after looking at similar laws elsewhere. A panel was then established to advise the government on an appropriate model, and the government's deadline to respond is Dec. 9.

The committee had recommended allowing euthanasia for adults of sound mind who have a serious, incurable condition. They must make a voluntary written request, repeated thrice.

Finalized legislation will be presented to the Victoria parliament next year for a conscience vote.

Fiona Patten, leader of the Australian Sex Party and a Victoria MP, has said that “allowing terminally ill people the right to die when they choose, with dignity, is not only compassionate but common sense.”

Within recent weeks, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has been more outspoken on the subject, claiming the potential act as “a way forward.”

Margaret Tighe, president of the Right to Life Australia, spoke out against Andrews, saying his support for euthanasia disregards the problems which have arisen in other places where it was legalized.

Doctors in Victoria are also concerned with potential risks of the new act, including diminished funding for palliative care and a lack of safeguards.

President of the Australian Medical Association Victoria, Lorraine Baker, stated that “palliative care must be freely available to all who have a terminal condition or who require management of the symptoms of chronic and incurable medical conditions.”

A professor from St. Vincent's Health, Peter Hudson, has warned Victoria's government that the assisted suicide system has not been thoroughly tested, and may offer the necessary support only when it is too late.

Under the proposal, “if you elect assisted suicide you're going to be guaranteed certain supports, whereas if you don't, your chances of getting comprehensive, quality palliative care are less than likely,” Hudson told ABC.

Hudson also expressed a belief that the state's politicians have are naive about how quick and painless a death can be expected with euthanasia.

“There's an assumption that if assisted suicide or euthanasia is supported, then people who avail themselves of this will have a kind of sanitized, completely pain-free death, and that can't be guaranteed … we have evidence in jurisdictions where euthanasia has been supported that for some people, they actually regurgitate the medications they've been given, some people have had seizures, and some people actually it takes them a very long time to die.”

Professor Mark Boughey, a colleague of Hudson's, believes palliative care has significantly improved within the last 50 years, and is a better option than euthanasia.

Palliative care should be “a standard of care, but at the moment, the standard of care and the referral processes just don't exist,” he lamented.

He recommended first prioritizing palliative care, before looking into euthanasia.

“Let's see what happens to our community if we enable quality palliative care rather than launching in to investing in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide at this point in time.”

Should Victoria legalize euthanasia, it would be the first Australian state to do so. It had been legal in the Northern Territory through a 1995 act, but that act was overturned in 1997.

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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