The perils of euthanasia exposed

The story of James “Jim” Mills reported by the ABC this week is a tragic illustration of the inevitable perils of legalised assisted dying.

Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021 and was receiving National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding for a visual impairment that he then began to use for his cancer care.

The ABC reported the NDIS funding was abruptly cut because the cancer was not a disability. That meant Jim would have to move to the local hospital to keep receiving care rather than stay in his assisted living facility where he was comfortable.

After 50 days of uncertainty about his situation, Jim decided to access euthanasia.

The NDIS funding was restored, but by that point Jim did not want to go through the uncertainty and stress again and he went through with euthanasia in August this year.

Jim’s family are now advocating for better palliative care options so no one is put in Jim’s situation again.

And this gets to the heart of the problem with legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Jim’s issue was solvable - indeed it was solved by the NDIS funding being restored and Jim being able to stay in his facility.

But by having euthanasia as a viable option on the table, administrative and funding uncertainty become much more fraught. The incentives for government, for healthcare providers, and the patients themselves become completely different.

And what could have been solved quickly with some cooperation and communication will never be solved because the patient has chosen euthanasia.

The story also illustrates how the incentives have also changed for palliative care. The system is complex and geared towards people over 65. Efforts to improve the system are going to always be difficult when a ready-made “solution” is available in the form of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

This is a tragic and unacceptable situation and it’s precisely why even the so-called “strongest” guardrails around accessing euthanasia and assisted suicide are not enough.

Because there are always people like Jim who fall through the cracks.

And just one case like Jim’s is one too many.