Tasmanian euthanasia push and shades of grey

  News reports today from the Hobart Mercury
 suggest, once again that the Giddings/McKim push for euthanasia will proceed 'despite indications it will not pass the state's lower house.'
 
Giddings and McKim are seasoned campaigners and I do not doubt that they will do their utmost to turn votes their way when the bill is introduced in the Tasmanian Parliament. The report says that the bill will be tabled 'in the second half of the year'.
 
This should be no surprise. I wouldn't expect people pushing such an agenda to simply walk away from a battle based on, what must be said, are largely unconfirmed numbers for the most part. What does surprise me is Ms Giddings raison d'etre:
 
"I have spoken to doctors who want to see reform because they are in a grey area around some of the care they provide to patients in the last stages of the dying processes," Ms Giddings said.
 
" around some of the treatment they provide to patients or patient care, I should say, that they provide in the last stages of the dying process." she told Seven News.
 
What is it, precisely, that these doctors want reformed? What are their concerns?
 
Paul Russell with Alex Schadenberg
outside the Tasmanian Parliament in 2011
In all Australian states, by statute or by common law, a doctor is protected in law if he or she acts - without the intention to kill - to alleviate pain and symptoms through the application of professional care even if, a secondary known (but not intended) effect might be that such an action could hasten death. If doctors don't know this, then the problem is not with the law as it stands, but rather with their training, understanding and/ or recourse to ethics panels.
 
But that knowledge alone does not remove the grey totally. The fact is that dying is inherently individual; diseases generally take a recognisable trajectory, yes, but many variables remain. That's why predictions of how long a person may have to live become increasingly inaccurate when projected past a week or more. It's just the way it is.
 
Doctors may well question their own judgement about such matters - whether a patient was as close to death as he/she had thought; whether the prescribed pain relief was entirely appropriate etc. and I would think that conscientious doctors would always have a thought to review their judgment. That's a good thing. 
 
Will euthanasia & assisted suicide legislation remove these grey areas? No, for two reasons:
 
Firstly, the grey areas that do exist are small. These are matters where we must rely on the training, best practice and, ultimately judgment of medical specialists. It's their chosen field and, notwithstanding the right to a second opinion, in some matters we must rely on their wisdom. The grey will always be there.
 
Secondly, the grey areas that do exist are defined by what is black and what is white. What is known to be correct practice (ethical) and what is known to be outside the law (unethical) informs all decisions - the small, grey area in between is defined and contained by our understanding of both ethical and unethical behaviour at either side.
 
Euthanasia & assisted suicide laws can only expand the grey area by making what was hitherto, unethical - ethical (or at least legal under the aphorism: what is legal is moral). Paraphrasing the 1984 House of Lords Committee, the human tendency to push at the boundaries of legislation can only further blur these distinctions.
 
It may be there's a fault with the reporting on the conversation with the journalists in question or it may be that the comments of Ms Giddings did not extend further than reported. Either way, the public discussion about this matter desperately needs to be raised beyond such vague and unsupported comments. To that end, clarification is indeed welcome.

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