Doctors speak out on assisted dying

Doctors speak out on assisted dying

Professor Rufus Clarke (pictured), from Doctors Supporting Assisted Dying Choice, refutes claims made by the current Australian Medical Profession (AMA) President, Dr Michael Gannon in a recent article in the Huffington Post. Professor Clarke’s article included the following:

As doctors we are committed to the wellbeing of all our patients, and we suffer with them and their families when they experience a terminal illness. According to the AMA’s own survey, a majority of doctors, knowing this, believe that doctors should be the ones to help terminally ill people to die if voluntary assisted dying became law…..Dr Gannon’s statement that patients receiving high-quality palliative care rarely, if ever, request medically assisted dying is at odds with the opinion of two-thirds of the respondents to the AMA’s member survey, who agreed with the statement that “while pain and suffering can be helped, complete relief of suffering is not always possible, even with optimal palliative care“. Click for Professor Clarke’s article in the Huffington Post 9 October 2017

On 19 September 2017, former Victorian AMA Presidents, Dr Parnis, Dr Haikerwal, and Dr Yates, met with Victorian MPs to lobby against the proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 [Victoria]. On the same day, the AMA issued a statement reinforcing that, while the three men were once state presidents and are entitled to their personal views, the AMA’s stance on assisted dying has changed since their tenures. The latest AMA Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide was issued on 24 Nov 2016. It includes the following statements:

  • The AMA believes that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life. This does not include the discontinuation of treatments that are of no medical benefit to a dying patient.
  • If  governments decide that laws should be changed to allow for the practice of euthanasia and/or physician assisted suicide, the medical profession must be involved in the development of relevant legislation, regulations and guidelines

Click for AMA Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide 2016

The AMA represents only about 30% of Australian doctors. According to an independent survey by Ekas in June 2017, about 60 per cent of NSW doctors support the voluntary assisted dying and fewer than 30 per cent oppose it – click for article in the Sydney Morning Herald Euthanasia survey hints at support from doctors, nurses and division 25 June 2017.

The position of the three senior Victorian doctors puts them at odds with former Australian AMA President, neurosurgeon Professor Brian Owler, who chaired the Victorian ministerial advisory panel on the issue. For more on Brian Owler’s stance click here ‘Dr Owler, past president of AMA, speaks out to support assisted dying

Click for article in The Age 20 September 2017 ‘Former medical association chiefs slam plans for voluntary euthanasia‘. This inspired some strong Letters to the Editor:

Assisted dying: The individual’s right to end their suffering

“We note the scaremongering of three doctors – past Victorian presidents of the Australian Medical Association – who are opposed to dying with dignity reform (The Age, 20/9). With respect, they are not the ones suffering and they provide no evidence for their assertions.

In Oregon, these laws have worked safely for 20years and people there have better end-of-life care than elsewhere in the United States. California and Canada have followed. Having the choice of voluntary assisted dying, even if it is not used, will provide great comfort to patients, knowing they have some control is their suffering cannot relieved, and no doctor is obliged to be involved.

Even the best palliative care cannot ease all symptoms and indignities. It is an individual’s right to say how much suffering they can endure, not “authority” figures imposing their views on others. Simple compassion, promoted by most religions, indicates assisted dying should be available as part of a complete approach to end-of-life care.

The legislation has been drafted after very careful consideration by an expert panel and the safeguards are strong. We remind politicians that the public overwhelmingly wants this reform, as well as a significant proportion of the medical community, and that they should vote accordingly.

by Dr Doug Gaze, Shoreham, and five other doctors from Doctors For Assisted Dying Choice – published in The Age 23 September 2017

Assisted dying: Choosing to end your life (and suffering)

“…As an experienced palliative care physician, and part of a specialised, multi-disciplinary team, I try my utmost to relieve people’s suffering. Unfortunately, despite excellent palliative care, not all suffering can be relieved, and indeed not all terminally ill patients choose to seek our help. This small minority of patients, I believe, deserve a legally available option to end their life (and suffering) at a time and in a manner of their choosing. This would not undermine good palliative care, which will always be the “main game” in end of life care and should be funded accordingly. Doctors do not always know what is best in these difficult situations and well-informed people deserve an alternative option which is currently denied them.” by Dr Greg Mewett, Ballarat – published in The Age 22 September 2017

Dr Greg Mewett, along with other palliative care physicians, Professor Michael Ashby and Professor Peter Martin, also produced an opinion piece for ‘Voluntary assisted dying: An alternative view’ – click for more

A more open conversation about dying

“Dr Mukesh Haikerwal need not worry about assisted dying being “against medical ethics” (ABC Radio, 20/9). In California, Oregon and Canada where assisted dying became legal, medical opposition melted away as doctors found conversations with patients about dying were much more open, and consequently palliative help became more effective.” by Dr Harley Powell, Elsternwick – published in The Age 22 September 2017

Click to support the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.