Something doesn’t add up

$18 million over 5 years.

That’s how much the South Australian government will invest in rolling out its euthanasia and assisted suicide regime over the next five years.

As part of this, five pharmacists will be employed. A lead pharmacist, three senior pharmacists and a pharmacy technician have all been recruited to dispense the lethal drugs to those who are approved for death.

The recruitment of five pharmacists may suggest that there is an expectation that the numbers seeking access to euthanasia and assisted suicide will not be small.

After all, if you were only expecting around 100 people per year to access euthanasia or assisted suicide (as predictions earlier this year suggested), why would you need to hire five pharmacists? That’s an awful lot of staff for just two patients per week.

More likely, the recruitment of five pharmacists to dispense lethal drugs is an implicit admission that the numbers will be much higher.

Victoria is already vastly outstripping the predicted 150 each year who would undertake euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is also outstripping where other jurisdictions like Oregon were this early into the implementation of the scheme. There is no reason that South Australia should expect its experience to be any different.

Perhaps even more alarming than the employment of five pharmacists is the comparison of the funding allocated to palliative care over a similar time period.

According to the SA Health website:

From 2018-2019 to 2021-22, the State Government has invested $16 million to improve support to people in the final stages of their life by:

  • expanding palliative care models in local health networks from a 5-day to a 7-day model
  • establishing the Statewide Palliative Care Clinical Network
  • delivering a report with a Statewide Assessment of Palliative Care Needs, highlighting the factors that will contribute to the way that people in South Australia will require palliative care
  • agreeing and implementing the Comprehensive Palliative Care in Aged Care project, in partnership with the Commonwealth Government.

According to SA Health, between 5,851 and 10,452 South Australians each year will benefit from some form of palliative care services. Yet the South Australian Government allocated only $16 million over three years to improve palliative care, which equates to between $500 and $900 for each person expected to benefit from palliative care each year.

Compare this to the $18 million over five years for the 100 people expected to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide (an investment of $36,000 per person).

Even if the numbers accessing euthanasia or assisted suicide are significantly higher than what is predicted, the disparity in the numbers is still striking.

What can be concluded from this, other than that the South Australian Government is much more invested in having people die early, rather than die with dignity?