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Australian & NZ Society of Palliative Medicine on Euthanasia

6 August 2012

Response to TV3 Prime Time program Sunday August 5th:

“We should focus on excellence of hospice and palliative care not euthanasia”

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine Inc., (ANZSPM), believes that the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide are outside the discipline of Palliative Medicine. The Society endorses the New Zealand Medical Association’s Position Statement on Euthanasia, and similarly the World Medial Association’s which state that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are unethical. This position is not dependent on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide remaining unlawful. Even if they were to become legal, or decriminalised, the NZMA would continue to regard them as unethical.

Dr Sinead Donnelly, Chair, ANZSPM Aotearoa, said, “Palliative medicine focuses on excellence of care for a person who is dying and their family. It is not the role of doctors to deliberately end the life of a patient. Doctors are trained and educated to care and never to kill”.

“Last night the TV3 60 minute program was completely biased in favour of euthanasia. It did not describe the work of hospice and palliative care doctors and nurses who on a daily basis strive ceaselessly throughout New Zealand to relieve the suffering of people facing imminent death. The national focus should be on achieving and maintaining excellence of palliative care for every person in this country”.

Dr Ian Smiley GP and ANZSPM member said “with good palliative care there is no reason for people to suffer. Doctors are ethically bound to do what they can to ease pain and suffering but that they must strive to "do no harm" and have the utmost respect for human life”.

ANZSPM recommends that a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide be acknowledged with respect and be extensively explored in order to understand, appropriately address and if possible remedy the underlying difficulties that gave rise to the request. Appropriate ongoing care consistent with the goals of Palliative Medicine should continue to be offered.

ANZSPM recommends that when requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide arise, particular attention be given to gaining good symptom control, utilising the skills of a multidisciplinary team.

ANZSPM believes that if treatment appropriately titrated to relieve symptoms has a secondary and unintended consequence of hastening death, then that is not euthanasia.

Dr Donnelly said, “Patients have the right to refuse life sustaining treatments, but that refusing such treatments does not constitute euthanasia.”

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM) is a society of medical practitioners who practice or have an interest in palliative medicine. The full ANZSPM position statement on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide can be found at www.anzspm.org.au.

ENDS

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