Dr Paul Dunne, palliative care specialist and spokesperson for REALdignitytas provides media comment in relation to euthanasia and assisted suicide in Tasmania
Today two Tasmanian Academics, Ms Hannah Graham, Associate Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology and Dr Jeremy Prichard, Senior lecturer in criminal law released a comprehensive academic response to the information paper relied on by Premier Giddings and Minister McKim in their attempt to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia [click here to view pdf].
"What it proves is that Premier Giddings' oft-quoted claim that the International evidence shows such legislation poses no threat to the vulnerable, is simply untrue. There is a large pool of research and literature that clearly shows significant risks to the aged, infants and children, disabled people, people who are economically disadvantaged, and people with mental illnesses." said Dr Paul Dunne of REALdignitytas.
"The respectfully toned academic paper confirms that Premier Giddings has not told the full story. I am hopeful this is not a deliberate attempt by Premier Giddings and Minister McKim to conceal literature and evidence that is contrary to their proposal". Stated Dr Dunne.
"The paper also demonstrates that significant 'bracket creep' has occurred in those small number of jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal. This means that over time the categories of people eligible to be legally killed has expanded to include a wide range of people who are not terminally ill.
"The Tasmanian Assisted Dying Bill is currently drafted to include people who are not dying or even terminally ill" said Dr Dunne "Based on International experience we can expect to see such laws expand over time to include people who are not physically ill but who suffer mental and emotional suffering."
"The research paper confirms the findings of previous inquiries and what many in the community already know. This is simply bad legislation.
What we need is more investment in end of life care, not a law to allow doctors to deliberately kill or assist to kill their patients. This is the ethical, compassionate and appropriate response to suffering.
Previous Tasmanian Inquiries in 1998 and 2009 have not recommended proceeding with such legislation, but have recommended more investment in, and education in end of life care.
Numerous International Parliamentary Inquiries have rejected such proposals as posing a very real danger to the most vulnerable in our community.
Tasmanian politicians have no right to risk the lives of the elderly, sick and vulnerable."
The paper is available in pdf format here.
Dr Paul Dunne AM
Dr Nick Cooling
"There is no system of legal euthanasia or assisted suicide that can protect our most vulnerable community members" said Dr Nick Cooling from REALdignitytas today.
Any legislation that allows doctors to legally and intentionally kill or assist to kill their terminally ill patients on request is a monumental shift in the age-old principle of the "inviolability of life" that underpins both criminal law and medical ethics.
Premier Giddings is simply wrong when she states that "There is no evidence from any international jurisdiction of these laws being abused". There is considerable evidence that in those jurisdictions where such systems are legal, that the aged, disabled and handicapped babies are indeed exposed to risk. A recent High Court decision in Ireland confirms that the evidence is clear that the vulnerable are put at risk.
Proponents for the legalisation have advertised that they want 'the comfort of knowing that legislation is there.' The problem is that international experience shows that legalising euthanasia provides absolutely no comfort to those who are euthanised without their consent.
Studies published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal show that in the Flanders region of Belgium, where euthanasia is legal, 32% of assisted deaths are without the patients explicit consent. 47% of assisted deaths were not reported even though required by law.
No matter what systems or protocols are put in place, there are no legislative safeguards that can fully protect the most vulnerable within our community.
Since publishing their information paper earlier in the year, Premier Giddings and Greens Minister McKim have not opened themselves up to public scrutiny regarding major flaws in the paper. There has been no public analysis of the many criticisms known to have been highlighted by organisations and individuals who responded to the information paper.
The paper relied heavily on selective and deficient research, much of which was funded by known pro-euthanasia advocates, designed to paint a picture of flawless implementation of legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide systems around the world. The main authorities cited by Giddings and McKim are the result of known pro-euthanasia initiatives. Compelling evidence which raises serious concern about the operation of these laws internationally was ignored in the paper.
There has been no Inquiry, Bill or Motion of the Tasmanian Parliament that gives Ms Giddings and Mr McKim, leaders of the Labor/Greens coalition, authority to proceed with euthanasia legislation. Previous Tasmanian Inquiries in 1998 and 2009 have not recommended proceeding with such legislation, and numerous International Parliamentary Inquiries have rejected such proposals as posing a very real danger to the most vulnerable in our community.
Tasmanian politicians have no right to risk the lives of the elderly and vulnerable.
Dr Nick Cooling
Dr Paul Dunne
Dr Paul Dunne from REALdignitytas today rejected the conclusion of the Australia21 Report on voluntary euthanasia, that voluntary euthanasia occurs "not infrequently" in Australia.
"That statement is simply incorrect" said Dr Dunne. "Many people promoting euthanasia, deliberately confuse euthanasia with current lawful medical practice, including the withdrawal of treatment or administration of pain relief. There is no reliable evidence that doctors currently intentionally kill their patients in Tasmania, they are simply providing lawful and compassionate end of life care".
"In relation to calls to enact legislation to "protect doctors" who work in end of life care, I contend that doctors have adequate protection under the law as it exists" stated Dr Dunne.
"The proponents of euthanasia are fostering a climate of fear and distress through the constant repetition that death is always painful and people must end their lives to avoid suffering" stated Dr Dunne. "These claims undermine the excellent work that occurs in the palliative care sector and also undermines the doctor patient relationship".
Dr Dunne also rejected the report's statement that appropriate safeguards can be implemented to protect vulnerable people and prevent abuse in so-called "assisted dying" regimes. "This Australia21 report ignores significant studies undertaken in Belgium where euthanasia is legal" said Dr Dunne. "The Belgium studies show that in 32% of cases the patient did not explicitly request to be killed. This group of patients had distinct characteristics: they were over 80, they were in hospital, and they were not dying from cancer. 70% were comatose and 21% suffered from dementia. This is extremely worrying – our most vulnerable members of society simply killed off at the convenience of others".
Dr Dunne stated: "How can the Australia21 report be taken seriously when it fails to address important evidence like this".
Dr Dunne also expressed concern about the mixed messages the report sends to those contemplating suicide, by suggesting that legalising assisted suicide might help people who are suicidal. " "Suicide Contagion" has been closely studied and is a known phenomenon both in relation to suicide and assisted suicide" said Dr Dunne. "Studies have shown that copycat suicides and assisted suicides occur following the reporting of such events. Depressed and vulnerable people are very open to suggestion. Rather than surround terminally ill people with systems to assist and normalise suicide, our community should consistently reaffirm the value of their life and take all steps to make that person comfortable and relieve their suffering. Killing people is not a compassionate response to their distress."
Dr Dunne also dismissed the deliberate attempt of the Australia21 report to situate opposition to euthanasia as "religious" opposition. "This is simply nonsense" he stated "Do you ever hear people calling for the crime of murder to be removed from the criminal code because the idea that killing someone is a "religious" concept? The principle of the inviolability of life, is a principle that has underpinned our system of criminal law and medical ethics since time immemorial."
Dr Paul Dunne AM
The Premier and the leader of the Greens have carefully constructed their proposal to avert criticism of assisted suicide/voluntary euthanasia per se – it only invites comment on the particular model set out in the paper.
The use of the words "Voluntary Assisted Dying" is a cover for Giddings' and McKim's real agenda –allowing doctors to legally and intentionally kill their terminally ill patients on request. This is a monumental shift in the age-old principle of the "inviolability of life" that underpins both criminal law and medical ethics.
There has been no Inquiry, Bill or Motion of the Tasmanian Parliament that gives Ms Giddings and Mr McKim, leaders of the Labor/Greens coalition, authority to proceed with discussion on a "model" for assisted suicide/euthanasia. Previous Tasmanian Inquiries in 1998 and 2009 have not recommended proceeding with such legislation, and numerous International Parliamentary Inquiries have rejected such proposals as posing a very real danger to the most vulnerable in our community.
The Proposal does not establish that the Tasmanian community wants or needs assisted suicide/euthanasia.
The proposal makes no mention of the $63 million in Commonwealth funding set to be injected into palliative care initiatives.
The paper employs selective and deficient research, much of which is funded by known pro-euthanasia advocates, designed to paint a picture of flawless implementation of legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide systems around the world. The main authorities cited by Giddings and McKim are the result of known pro-euthanasia initiatives. Key evidence has been ignored in this paper.
There is considerable evidence that in those jurisdictions where such systems are legal, that the aged, disabled and handicapped babies are indeed exposed to risk. A recent High Court decision in Ireland confirms that the evidence is clear that the vulnerable are put at risk.
The proposal does not set out a transparent evaluation process. The authors have avoided a formal Parliamentary Inquiry. It is unknown who will evaluate the submissions. Given the majority of contributors thanked in the proposal are known pro-euthansia advocates, REALdignitytas has concerns about their capacity to adequately take into consideration serious objections to the proposal.
Last November, voters in the US state of Massachusetts held a referendum on the legalisation of assisted suicide. This is a politically progressive state which has the best hospitals and best universities in the world. But the measure was opposed by the Massachusetts Medical Society, America's oldest state medical society, and rejected by the voters.
Tasmanian politicians have no right to risk the lives of the elderly and vulnerable in their state by approving this poorly researched proposal.
Dr Paul Dunne AM