Doctors support end-of-life choice

Farrah Tomazin

Almost half of a number of doctors surveyed say they would help a terminally ill person commit suicide if that patient was suffering intolerably, in the latest sign of growing momentum towards voluntary euthanasia.

As the Andrews government de­cides whether to allow physician-assisted death in Victoria, a survey in health magazine Australian Doctor suggests the majority would support a shift, while many admit helping patients to end their lives already happens in the medical system.

The survey was based on the assisted-dying model put forward by a parliamentary committee earlier this year. The Andrews cab­inet is considering whether it should be adopted.

Under that model, only patients with decision-making capacity would have the right to ask for help to die, not a relative or another party. They would also be required to make the request three times: first by asking their doctor, then by filling in a form, and finally by verbally reaffirming their wish.

The survey of 366 doctors and 26 nurses found about 65 per cent said they supported legal reforms allowing patients to end their own lives in this manner.

Forty-nine per cent said they would be willing to assist patients to take their own lives, while al­most 42 per cent admitted some doctors already help terminally ill people with suicide, if they are asked — although this is not wide­spread.

The findings are the latest devel­opment in what has long been a vexed issue for medical profession­als. The Australian Medical Asso­ciation says doctors generally want to help people who suffer intoler­ably, but many are concerned they would not be adequately protected by the law.

“As such, many patients may not be receiving the care they wish to have at the end of life because med­ical practitioners fear prosecu­tion,” the AMA wrote in its submis­sion to the parliamentary commit­tee, which conducted a 10-month review into end-of-life choices.

Politicians have been reluctant to change the law, but in recent months many state MPs have spoken out publicly in favour of a shift.

Within government ranks more than half the [Victorian] cabinet has openly declared in-principle support for assisted dying. Premier Daniel Andrews is yet to declare his position.

Next week the Health Issues Centre will hold an event at the State Library [of Victoria] designed to get people to discuss their end-of-life choices, which can often be a difficult topic for many families.

The Age (Melbourne), Saturday 22 October 2016.