Seventy three per cent of Australians are in favour of doctor assisted dying for terminally ill patients and during Hospital Week, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney’s Westmead campus Chris Ryan provided arguments why voluntary assisted dying should be legalised.
Suicide is not a crime in NSW, but assisting suicide is. Anyone who helps another person end their life could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Voluntary assisted dying bills are currently before the Victorian and NSW parliaments. The NSW bill allows patients to self-administer, or be assisted by a doctor or another nominated person to administer, a lethal substance to end their life provided they are 25 years or over, suffering a terminal illness that means they are likely to die within 12 months and experiencing unacceptable suffering.
They must have counselling and know their palliative care options, be assessed by two medical practitioners, and then by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
There is a 48 hour cooling off period.
There was no moral difference between practitioner-assisted dying and the withdrawal of active treatment that already occurs.
“Doctors are helping people die now – quite a lot – despite the current laws, but it’s uncontrolled. Physician-assisted dying would provide regulation.”
Laws that allowed voluntary assisted dying would allow patients to avoid weeks or months of suffering, and hand back their control and dignity, he said.
“Suicides tend to be brutal, excruciating experiences for everyone involved,” he told the symposium. “The great majority of suicides and suicide attempts are made by those in the grip of mental illness, or intoxication or fleeting despair. Noone wants more suicides.”
People had a right to self-determination, he said.
“The current arrangements prohibit those who wish to end their own lives.”
It was inevitable that one state jurisdiction would legalise voluntary assisted dying, and others would likely follow.
The wide-ranging symposium on euthanasia included sessions on the health care legacy of Northern Territory legislation that briefly allowed voluntary euthanasia in the 1990s and the difference between palliative care and euthanasia.
Western Sydney Local Health District director of supportive and palliative medicine Dr Sally Greenaway said the topic came with “passionate” views.
“We need to hear from the voices that tend to get drowned out,” she said.