Euthanasia debate flares up in Australia

The debate over legalising euthanasia has flared up again in Australia, with both opponents and advocates making spirited contributions.

Last Wednesday, Australian doctor Rodney Syme appeared on the popular talk show Q and A and publically admitted to having supplied Nembutal to a man. "I have openly gone and stated to the police that I have given a man Nembutal," he said. "I have described the circumstances in which that happened.”

Syme says he is attempting to provoke a test-case for euthanasia law in Australia.

Another panellist on the show, television personality Andrew Denton, defended proposed euthanasia law reform against the so-called ‘slippery slope’ argument.

“I would remind you of the core things about this law. It is voluntary. You have to be an adult who is compos [mentis], who understands what they’re talking about,” he said.

Denton has become a new prominent advocate for euthanasia in Australia, after he went on a lengthy ‘study tour’ of Belgium and the Netherlands to learn about the implementation of euthanasia law there.

But critics too have made their contributions. In the past week two prominent doctors published opinion pieces in national mastheads arguing against legalising euthanasia. Palliative Care specialist Dr. Ranjana Srivastava argued that legal euthanasia is a poor fix for a broader societal problem.  

“The terminally ill patients who suffer doubly are those who are ostracised by their relatives, estranged from their children, divorced by their spouse and left to shoulder their burden alone. There is no easy solution to this intractable problem, which is really a failure of modern society and its fraying relationships rather than a limitation of medicine. Downplaying the value of palliative care will confuse patients and do them a disservice.”

Similarly, Dr Richard Chye, director of palliative care at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, argued that euthanasia would turn death into a technical problem to be fixed, rather than an existential reality that patients must come to terms with (and that good palliative care can make more bearable).

I agree there are problems with how Australians are dying, but I think access to good-quality palliative care can change that. Australians want to die at home but need better support services to do so. Carers need respite and your postcode often determines access to services. These are the rights we are currently denied. This is what we should be getting up in arms about.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | assisted dying, Australia, euthanasia, palliative care

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