Palliative Care And Euthanasia Don't Go Together

  Two bills before the South Australian Parliament at the moment attempt precisely that by amending the longstanding Palliative Care Act to include acts of euthanasia and assisted suicide.  The argument they are making is essentially that euthanizing a patient is simply one option in the suite of palliative care options available to medical professionals.  That's rather like suggesting that dentists could do brain surgery rather than fix your root canal!Palliative care is a holistic approach to terminal illness and the dying process.  It seeks to address the whole spectrum of issues that confront a person with a terminal diagnosis through information, high quality care and pain relief, dealing with the emotions, dispelling fear, offering spiritual support if required and including the family in every aspect of the patient's care.

Palliative care specialists are quite outstanding people.  Those that I have known love their work with a passion.  They bring the very best of care to those with great need.  Palliative Care wards or hospices are places of great peace and tranquility.  Their work extends to providing comfort and care in the home as well as in the hospice setting.  Theirs is a multi-disciplinary environment that seeks to assist the whole person, not just the physical pain.

The problem we have in Australia is twofold.  Firstly, few people really understand what palliative care is and the great role that it plays in our society (including many doctors I might add).  Secondly, we simply don't have enough palliative care services.  As Margaret Somerville points out, we can always relieve pain — but we need to make sure that we have more skilled professionals so that the right to proper pain relief and skilled management of terminal conditions is available to all.

It will come as no surprise to learn that in Holland, where euthanasia and assisted suicide has been practiced for decades, that they have one of the lowest number of palliative care beds per capita in Europe.  This situation is hardly likely to change given that there's a cheap and easy 'alternative'.  It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to realize that, if euthanasia is an alternative in Australia, that the need for expansion in palliative care services here simply won't happen at pace.

Which brings us back to euthanasia.  Even though many people upon receiving the news of a terminal diagnosis may well briefly consider euthanasia, experience shows that the intervention of good palliative care medical staff allays their fears and changes their outlook for the better.  How would the presentation and support offered and experienced by patients in palliative care change if they knew that euthanasia was an option?  How would the attitude of nursing and other staff change if they knew that their work was being actively undermined?  That while they work tirelessly (and they do) to provide comfort, solace and care to Mrs. McGillicuddy in Room 3 that Mr. Jones in the next room will be killed when next his specialist visits?

Palliative care does work.  Pain can be managed.  Not only is euthanasia a moral boundary that we simply should not cross, it's also entirely unnecessary!

Read an explanation on Palliative Care and comments from Canadian specialists HERE