Saturday, October 9, 2010

Australian doctor warns against legalizing euthanasia

It is interesting that while I am on a speaking tour in Australia that Mark Boughey, a palliative care leader in Australia would be making news in Canada based on his comments at that Palliative Care conference in Montreal.

The article that was written by Aaron Derfel and published in the Montreal Gazette on October 8 stated:
Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide in Quebec would probably end up hurting palliative medical services in the province, warned an Australian physician who has studied the impact of his country's experiment with mercy-killing legislation.

Mark Boughey, director of palliative medicine at St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, recalled the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which came into force in Australia's Northern Territory on July 1, 1996. (The law was nullified a year later by the federal parliament, but there is renewed talk of adopting similar legislation.)

Boughey said the law led to an exodus of health professionals specializing in palliative care from the Northern Territory. What's more, many aboriginals -whose culture is against mercy killing -grew distrustful of the medical establishment, and the number of routine childhood vaccinations dropped.

Boughey offered some wise advise to the Quebec people concerning euthanasia:
"Quebec should be broadening the palette of palliative care services," Boughey said in an interview after giving a presentation at the 18th International Congress on Palliative Care, which wraps up today in Montreal.

Under palliative care, doctors, nurses and other health professionals treat the symptoms and ease the pain of the terminally ill, making them more comfortable and helping them lead a dignified life until death. The goal is not to "cure" the patient, but it's also not to expressly hasten that person's death.

Boughey then spoke from his experience:
He recalled that in the Northern Territory, patients who had opted for physician-assisted suicide had to, by law, wait nine days until the act of dying. During that time, many were deprived of palliative care that could have eased their suffering.

Boughey noted that in Oregon - where the Death with Dignity Act has legalized physician-assisted suicide under certain circumstances - private Health Maintenance Organizations are increasingly promoting the euthanasia option.

The article concluded by quoting from Ira Byrock:
Ira Byock, director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, urged physicians at the conference to focus on suicide prevention with some of their terminally ill patients.

Byock recounted the examples of a couple of his patients who had expressed a desire to end their lives, but who then changed their views when provided with more comprehensive palliative care.

Society needs to care for people not kill them.

Link to the Montreal Gazette article:

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