“Deeply concerned”: why geriatricians are fighting against euthanasia

“By succumbing to the push for voluntary assisted dying legislation, are we abandoning the push for quality end-of-life care and palliative care, and are we stating that there is no more we can offer and that death is the only option?”

This was the poignant question posed by a specialist in geriatric medicine to a Queensland parliamentary inquiry considering the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide in that state.

President of the Australian New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine Queensland, Dr Chrys Pulle, outlined for the parliamentary committee the concerns that doctors who specialise in geriatric medicine have about the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“The Society is deeply concerned about the potential consequences of legalising voluntary assisted dying for a number of reasons,” Dr Pulle told the committee. 

“First of all, portraying a conflicting public health message that suicide is the preferred option in certain circumstances, placing pressure on frail older people who may feel they’re a burden on others.  Such feelings are often due to underlying depression, financial complaints or family dysfunction issues.”

He also expressed concerns for the many who experienced a reduced mental capacity towards the end of life, highlighting “the risks of voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia on patients with cognitive impairment, dementia, delirium or reduced capacity.”

Dr Pulle also stated what so many doctors have previously, that the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide would change the “concept of doctors being treaters, life savers and healers as espoused in the Hippocratic Oath to being providers of life-ending services,” noting it would “impact on the doctor-patient relationship, especially towards the end of life.”

Addressing the financial elephant in the room, Dr Pulle also foreshadowed “adverse effects on the funding for palliative care services and research,” and “an increase in the justifications for voluntary assisted dying and potential for abuse, for example costs-savings to the health system.”

“The Australian New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine’s view is that policymakers and funders of health care can best help patients by [ensuring] adequate provision and funding of high-quality palliative care and geriatric medical services rather than providing legislation allowing voluntary assisted dying,” he said. 

“Best palliative care practice is not in accordance with assisted dying.”

The Australian New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine strives to provide the best medical care for the elderly.  It has over 1200 members in Australia and New Zealand, including 150 in Queensland, who work across all fields of aged care, including residential and community aged care, and experts in managing the complex health problems facing older people.