Catholic health experts attack suicide Bill

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Catholic health experts have attacked an assisted suicide Bill as a “distraction from the shameful reality” of inadequate access to palliative and end of life care.

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) CEO Suzanne Greenwood said that Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 would also further contribute to a widespread fear of death and dying.

“Legislating for euthanasia and assisted suicide would have dangerous unintended consequences for our vulnerable Australians including Indigenous, ethnic, disabled, and our elderly, and has been consistently opposed by national and international medical experts,” she said in a letter to Federal Senators.

Australian-Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville. PHOTO: Robert Hiini

The private member’s Bill, scheduled for debate today, would re-establish for the ACT and Northern Territory the ability to legalise assisted suicide in their jurisdictions.

At the moment, that power rests with the Federal government after law passed in 1996 overturned a brief-lived voluntary euthanasia law in the Northern Territory.

Ms Greenwood said it is “troubling” that this Bill has arisen at a time when an ACT inquiry into end-of-life care has revealed inadequate access to palliative care across the Territory.

“We are gravely concerned about the potentially dangerous impact this legislation would have, undermining the medical profession, devaluing palliative care, and desensitising public attitudes to suicide,” she said.

She pointed out that the Northern Territory population is comprised of 25.5 percent Indigenous Australians, whose cultures oppose euthanasia under traditional lore, and whose communities are struggling to reduce high suicide rates.

University of Notre Dame bioethics professor Margaret Somerville also called on the Senate to reject the Bill, saying that the experience of Canada demonstrated that euthanasia was being used as a cheaper alternative to proper psychiatric and palliative care.

She said the assurance by early proponents of euthanasia that it would not lead to a ‘slippery slope’ had been proven wrong, with research showing that safeguards were being routinely violated and euthanasia eventually extended to young children and the mentally ill.

It comes after news that two Belgian children, aged nine and 11, were euthanasied in 2016 or 2017.

Prof Somerville has long argued for improved palliative care and proper consideration of the reasons for patients’ requests for assisted suicide or euthanasia.

However Senator Leyonhjelm has said that palliative care is “not a sufficient alternative” to medically assisted dying and that the government should not decide whether a person can choose to live or die.