Thursday, 3 October 2013

Saying NO to a fatal attraction

For the sake of our readers from outside Australia, Tasmania is an island state off the south coast of the Australian mainland with the next stop-south being Antarctica. 'Mainlanders' as people like me are often called by our Tasmanian cousins, engage in the kind of parochialism that, I guess, is pretty common anywhere.

Tasmanian's respond in kind. I well recall on one of my visits to the Apple Isle that a colleague, in a sign of appreciation for my work said that I was, "Proof that Tasmanians can swim!"

So it's great to be able to point in a concrete way, without any hint of cross-Tasman rivalry, when our friends in Tasmania get it so right in a big way.

Such is the work of our friends at RealDignityTasmania. RealDignityTas have been working to oppose euthanasia & assisted suicide legislation for sometime now. Their website has some fantastic interviews with local academics and medicos who will be well known to many Tasmanians and who have a real and compelling point to make about the problems with this legislation. (I encourage you to follow the link and take a look for yourself.)

Today, in the Hobart Mercury newspaper, one of their number, Dr Nicholas Cooling - a General Practitioner, has an excellent opinion piece on the whole question of euthanasia & assisted suicide from a global perspective with particular criticism of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2013 due for debate in Tasmania in a few weeks.

The following is the second half of the article:

No euthanasia legislation can be made fail-safe.
The current proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation has multiple problems, including very loose eligibility criteria.
"Eligibility creep" is a common phenomena in jurisdictions overseas.
In the Netherlands, official reporting documents show euthanasia deaths have exploded in recent years and now account for 3 per cent of all deaths, including those of people with dementia and psychiatric conditions.
In Belgium, where euthanasia is legal and safeguards are in place, 32 per cent of deaths occur without the explicit consent of the patient.
These patients were found to "fit the description of vulnerable patient groups".
The claimed "human right" to assisted suicide or euthanasia would ultimately promote suicide and rejects the collective interest that maybe lost by such individual actions.
As anthropologist Dr Ernest Becker says, people develop and promote this "right" in order to "protect themselves from the painful awareness of their helplessness, and to feel safe by pretending that the world is manageable and within their individual control".
The consequences for the wider community include: altering the trust in the doctor-patient relationship; promoting a sense of reduced worth if you are eligible for euthanasia; and placing more power in the hands of doctors – allowing them to legally kill.
The answer to those who fear a horrible death is better palliative care, improved communication with their doctor, and access to appropriate supports and compassion, rather than euthanasia.
There is reason for optimism for improved end-of-life care in Tasmania, with $60 million promised for better palliative care and enhanced training for communication and compassionate care of suffering, now being taught at our medical school and specialist training colleges.
Of course, sometimes this is not enough for some people who still suffer and their families who suffer in witness of their terminal illness.
This is distressing for all concerned – patients, families and healthcare professionals.
But in a struggling Tasmanian economy, the enticing cost-effective solution seemingly provided by the proposed euthanasia legislation is a Trojan horse that poses a greater risk to the wider community.
Finally, do we want Tasmania to be known as the place where people come to be killed by doctors? Do we want to have the reputation of the Northern Territory arising from its short-lived euthanasia experiment, where it became a place to attract depressed and socially isolated people from other regions in search of a quick death.
Tasmania should continue to be known as a destination for wilderness and fine-food tourism – not a place for end-of-life medical tourism.
Congrats to Dr Cooling and RealDignityTas for their fine work! 

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