Medical ethicist: euthanasia’s used as a cheaper alternative

An Australian medical ethicist has called on the Senate to reject a bill clearing the way to legalise voluntary assisted dying across Australia.

University of Notre Dame bioethics Professor Margaret Somerville says international experience demonstrates euthanasia is being used as a cheaper alternative to psychiatric and palliative care.

In a paper published in the Journal of Palliative Care, Somerville and nine of her international counterparts wrote that euthanasia should not be legal and should never be performed by physicians in countries where it is permitted.

“It is not justifiable to allow physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia to grant the wishes of a few with difficult-to-relieve suffering at the expense of the rights and protections of others, especially vulnerable people who have no voice,” the paper said.

“Solutions for suffering lie in improving palliative care and addressing social causes, and remedying the reasons patients request assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Somerville says the assurance by early proponents of euthanasia that it would not lead to a “slippery slope” had been proven wrong, with research showing that safeguards were being routinely violated.

“In one study in Belgium, they surveyed doctors and found that 32 per cent had gone outside of the regulations.”

She also points to the two children aged nine and 11 who were euthanised in Belgium last week. They are the world’s youngest to be euthanised to date.

Somerville says patient surveys show in many cases a fear of being a burden on relatives is a more common reason for assisted dying than pain and suffering.

“It’s a societal tragedy if we allow this [assisted suicide] to be legalised in Australia,” she says.

Somerville’s comments have been timed to coincide with Australia’s federal Senate’s debate this week on Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm’s private member’s bill.

The bill seeks to enable the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Northern Territory to make their own laws on voluntary assisted dying.

Where other states around Australia are passing laws on voluntary assisted dying (and Victoria passed legislation to this effect last year), ACT and Northern Territories can’t consider changing their own legislation.

The reason for this goes back over 20 years.

In 1995, the Northern Territory famously became the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia. However, the right to do so was voided two years later when a bill was passed banning both the ACT and the Northern Territory from legalising assisted suicide.

The chief ministers of the Northern Territory and the ACT have ramped up calls to restore their territories’ rights to make their own voluntary euthanasia laws.

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