National Palliative Care Week 2019

It is with good reason that anyone who has experienced palliative care – either for themselves or for a loved one – is very appreciative…  Many even have positive and life-giving, though often incredibly sorrowful, memories of it. 

Whilst it still remains deeply misunderstood in the community, the contribution it makes to vulnerable, terminally ill patients at the end of their lives is incalculable.

As Dr Natasha Michael describes:

Palliative Care Week celebrates the simple but authentic and meaningful work undertaken by many palliative care services. This goes beyond the management of pain and symptoms to include providing biography services, life reviews through dignity therapy, music and art therapy that forms memory-making and allows for legacy-leaving, the pastoral provision of prayer, sacraments, reflections, meditations, the facilitation of family therapy sessions that allow for discourse, disclosure and closure. The efforts made to achieve the bucket list of travels, holidays, hot-air balloon rides, swims in the sea, weddings and Christening and Passover meals in a hospice or palliative care facility recognise the high human meaning and significance of giving thanks.

The more that the community understands the true nature of what is involved in palliative care, and its compassionate focus on the individual and their needs, the more people will recognise that this is exactly where government resources should be focused.

Sadly, there is an alarming trend occurring in Australia, which is that state governments, whilst recognising the deficit in palliative care funding in their jurisdictions (as evidenced by their inquiry reports which all attest to the shortfalls in funding), are choosing to focus on euthanasia and assisted suicide as the way forward, rather than prioritising adequate funding of palliative care.

Before Victoria legalised euthanasia, their inquiry into end of life choices made 49 recommendations – 30 related to the improvement of palliative care funding and access, and only one related to the introduction of assisted suicide.

Palliative Care Victoria requested an additional $65 million per annum to implement the recommendations…  To its shame, the Victorian government committed to just $62 million – over a 5-year period.

Without funding, palliative care – one of the supposed ‘safeguards’ for Victoria’s euthanasia regime – is nothing but a rouse.

Looking to following in Victoria’s steps, Western Australia’s Committee into End of Life Choices found that the state has the lowest number of publicly funded palliative care beds per capita in the nation.

Their Minority Report outright states that:

Informed consent to assisted suicide cannot be obtained unless good palliative care is actually available to the patient. A failure to appropriately control a patient’s pain or to provide access to palliative care can result in requests for euthanasia which cannot properly be termed voluntary.”

And yet, whilst Western Australia has announced a small increase in palliative care funding, the focus and priority of the government is fully and squarely on legalising death on demand. 

It’s safe to say we have a culture crisis in our nation when, instead of doing all they can to ensure the most vulnerable Australians – the elderly, the sick – are able to receive the best palliative care available, no matter where they live or how much they earn, our governments are pouring their time, effort and soon-to-be-funding into killing them. 

One can only hope this hasn’t got everything to do with the fact that the latter is infinitely cheaper. 

During this, National Palliative Care Week 2019, these state governments would do well to heed the words of Australian Palliative Medicine professionals:

It would be unethical for any state jurisdiction in Australia to move to legalise for assisted suicide or euthanasia whilst many ill, aged and disabled Australians cannot yet access the support that they need. Such a move would not enhance choice, but instead reduce choice around the care and support for those in real need.

This week serves as a reminder of the incredible care provided by thousands of palliative care professionals around the country, and how vital it is that adequate funding and universal access is the priority, not death on demand.