Peak health group rejects dying bill

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Nurses provide care to a patient in the palliative care unit of a hospital near Paris. Photo: CNS photo/Philippe Wojazer, Reuters
Nurses provide care to a patient in the palliative care unit of a hospital near Paris. Photo: CNS photo/Philippe Wojazer, Reuters

Catholic providers in Tasmania will resist proposed law

Catholic Health Australia has strongly rejected Tasmania’s proposed euthanasia legislation and says its members in the state are more committed than ever to delivering compassionate end of life care.

Debate opened on the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 in Tasmania’s Upper House on 15 September and will continue each Tuesday until it goes to a final vote.

Amid growing calls for an inquiry into the bill and its aims, CHA says it is not only flawed but undermines a central tenet of the Catholic faith – to value human life above all else.

“CHA does not believe intentional killing is consistent with good medicine or the Catholic ethic of compassionate care which has marked the practice of medicine for millennia,” said its chief executive Pat Garcia in a statement.

Mr Garcia said that CHA members will neither offer the prescription of a lethal substance to a person to help them end their own life, nor administer a lethal substance to a person by a doctor to end their life.

They include Calvary Healthcare which operates four hospitals in Tasmania and Southern Cross Care which operates around nine aged care facilities in the state.

He is calling for greater government investment in palliative care. “We know that half of the people who would benefit from palliative care are able to actually access it, and this is particularly so in regional Australia,” he said.

CEO of Catholic Health Australia Pat Garcia

CHA joins a growing chorus of voices that have expressed concern or opposition to the proposed law, including the state’s former chief justice and governor William Cox, its Premier Peter Gutwein, Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous, Live and Die Well advocate Ben Smith, and Southern Cross Care chair Stephen Shirley.

More than 800 Australian health professionals published an open letter calling on Premier Gutwein to support growing calls for an inquiry into the private member’s bill.

“We believe that crossing the line to intentionally assist a person to suicide would fundamentally weaken the doctor-patient relationship, which is based on trust and respect,” they wrote.

“We are especially concerned with protecting vulnerable people who can feel they have become a burden to others.”

Speaking in parliament, the bill’s author Mike Gaffney MLC, said that terminally ill Tasmanians have been unable to legally end their suffering “for far too long”.

“I see no reason for the continued denial of choice and dignity to those enduring untold suffering, pain and ultimately death,” he said.

“Real choice for compassionate care at the end of life can be assured if governments invest in palliative care for all citizens,” Pat garcia

But Mr Garcia said that if high quality palliative care was available to all, “the level of suffering which proponents of this Bill rely upon to press their case would be eliminated and with it the need for an assisted suicide Bill”.

“Real choice for compassionate care at the end of life can be assured if governments invest in palliative care for all citizens,” he added.

Mr Smith agreed that more investment in palliative care and greater awareness of what it entails would mean not only greater choice for Tasmanians at the end of life but peace of mind for the dying and their loved ones.

“It’s understandable for people to want a sense of control about how their life will end, but there is a lot of fear and lack of information driving this debate,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“If we have quality palliative care options in place, and are willing to talk earlier about our dying, make advanced care directives, set up power of attorney and guardianship arrangements and those sorts of things, it can to a lot to reduce the stress at the end of life or in those emergency situations when it’s easy to make a bad decision.”

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