HSV Submissions – August 1995

Medical Assistance in Voluntary Euthanasia

Submitted 7 August 1995 to President, Dr David Weedon, Australian Medical Association (AMA), and Chairman of Council, Professor Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, Australian Medical Association (AMA)

We write to express our concern over the position which the AMA has adopted in the current debate on Voluntary Euthanasia. Since the AMA summit in Canberra last August, extensive surveys, public debates, and the passing of The Terminally Ill Bill in the Northern Territory, have revealed the need for assistance to the dying. We believe such assistance, if voluntarily requested, is increasingly necessary where pain and distress relief is not achievable and where life-sustaining treatment is futile. The small number of terminally ill patients whose distress, pain or loss of dignity cannot be alleviated by palliative care require expert help to achieve dignified and easy death. The incidence of often botched suicide attempts by such patients is a testimony to that requirement.

The decriminalising of suicide was acknowledgement of autonomy over one’s life. The granting of the right to refuse medical treatment was a further extension of that autonomy. We are impressed by the careful provisions of the NT’s Bill to exclude the potential for abuse by requiring assessment by two doctors, witnesses, the documentation and the involvement of the State Coroner. It is common knowledge that euthanasia is practised in defiance of the law at present. Doctors and nurses testify to this personally, as do several surveys. A recent survey by Professor Peter Baume and Emma O’Malley (Medical Journal of Australia, 18 July 1994) found that ‘there was majority support for changes to the law concerning euthanasia’. In their conclusion the authors state: ‘There are relatively high levels of support for, and practice of, active voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide by medical practitioners in NSW and the ACT, suggesting that the current legislation should be reviewed.’ We believe that the current legislation is harmful for two reasons: first it puts the caring, compassionate physician in breach of the law; and secondly it maintains the potential for abuse. We believe that the decriminalisation and regulation of physician-assisted suicide is urgently needed. We urge the AMA to support uniform legislation throughout the Commonwealth of Australia to decriminalise compassionate assistance on request to die without agony and dignity.

(Recent articles in support of HSV views were enclosed with this submission.)

Published: Victorian Humanist, Sept. 1995: 4

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