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Friday 19 September 2014

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CURRENT LAW

If you are suffering an incurable illness and in constant pain it is not legal to get a doctor to help you die. In NSW a person helping you die is liable to 10 years in prison. (Section 31c of the Crimes Act.)

You can seek palliative care, decide to withhold or withdraw medical treatment, receive increased doses of pain relief that hasten your death, stop eating and drinking, be put in terminal sedation, or even commit suicide on your own.

First, palliative care provides relief from pain and other distressing and uncomfortable symptoms, and it also supplies emotional and spiritual support and guidance. Palliative care is valuable but cannot relieve the pain and suffering of all dying patients.

Palliative Care Australia “recognize and respect the fact that some people rationally and consistently request deliberate ending of life.”

Second, you could ask your doctor to withhold or withdraw medical treatment that you do not want. In fact you can insist on it.

The withholding or withdrawal of life support for compassionate reasons used to be called ‘passive euthanasia’. It is now called ‘appropriate care’ and is widely practised. But when do you decide?

Third, you could ask your doctor to increase the dosage of medication designed for pain relief even though that is likely to hasten your death. This is legal, provided the stated intention is to relieve pain, not to cause death. It used to be called ‘indirect euthanasia’. Not all doctors will agree to act in this way.

Fourth, you can simply stop eating and drinking, though this still leaves you with a long and very unpleasant death.

Fifth, some hospitals now offer ‘sedation to unconsciousness’ or ‘continuous deep sedation’. The patient dies over time from starvation or dehydration, but is unconscious. This is sometimes called ‘slow euthanasia’.

And sixth, you could commit suicide, usually a lonely and violent death. On average, each week in Australia four people over the age of 70 kill themselves by hanging, shooting, or gassing themselves, jumping off a building, or drinking weed killer.

Why a peaceful assisted death is illegal while all these much worse alternatives are legally available is a mystery only politicians could explain.