The Great Debate


Here’s the truth, which some might not appreciate: we already euthanise people, everyday, here in Australia. Just not in the eyes of the law.

Treatment of the terminally ill is always focused on the patient’s needs, emotionally as well as in a medical sense. And so it should be; we must all agree that medical treatment of critically ill and terminally ill patients should always be about the patient, not their families or loved ones.

Then, when all avenues of treatment have been exhausted, and the specialists deem that a patient is beyond saving, there comes an inevitable point where it is useless to keep using medications that were designed to cure their disease. There comes a point where the dignity of the patient comes into question, whether because of discomfort from side-effects, or maybe because they are simply in such an awful state of pain and suffering.

At this point, we are faced with the confronting decision about whether it would be kinder to stop medicating with a view to curing them, and start looking after their comfort as best as possible – often with the use of morphine, to maximise their comfort during their final hours or days.

My point here is that by withdrawing medical treatment when it is deemed that the patient is beyond saving, and using as much pain relief as required (think of a deep, peaceful, morphine-induced sleep during your final hours of life), it could be argued that we are effectually euthanising the patient. We are choosing to let them die with as much dignity as possible. Often the only other choice is to prolong their suffering, while unable to avoid the certainty of their (often imminent) death.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m speaking from my personal experience of losing two much-loved members of my family, and a brief career in aged care. I make no claim to be a palliative care expert. Also, for the sole purpose of keeping specifically to the topic of euthanasia, I have avoided mentioning our excellent palliative care professionals, who make a positive difference to those who suffer from terminal illness.

The euthanasia debate has been around for a while here in Australia, and it’s important that we all participate in the discussion.