State-sanctioned killing by doctors will be ‘tragic’

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A Bill allowing Australian territory governments to legislate medically-assisted suicide if they wish may be debated in parliament as early as this week. PHOTO: Pexels

It will be a tragedy if Australia embraces the idea of state-sanctioned killing after decades of fighting it in the judicial system, says palliative care expert Prof David Kissane.

“Having abandoned state-sanctioned killing through the judicial system our society wants to reintroduce it through the medical system by empowering it to kill,” he says.

“It’s tragic. We just spent many decades fighting to get rid of public executions, for good reason, because there was recognition that mistakes could be made and it’s not necessary.

In the same way “no legislation can safely protect the vulnerable” when it comes to medically-assisted suicide either, he says.

The inaugural chair of Palliative Medicine Research at Notre Dame University and St Vincent’s Hospital wrote to the country’s senators as they prepared to debate the Bill this week seeking to allow the Australian Capital and Northern Territories to introduce assisted suicide laws if they wish.

Prof David Kissane. PHOTO: Supplied

The Bill put forward by Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm could see the territory governments rather than the federal government legislate on the issue in their jurisdictions.

The Bill may be debated in parliament as early as this week.

Prof Kissane is an expert on the cases of euthanasia in the Northern Territory in the late 1990s before the so-called Andrews Bill passed in 1996 removed from the Territories the power to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide.

He discovered that poor medical care was delivered to those patients and safeguards were not followed at the time.

The results of his research were published in medical journal The Lancet.

“The arguments for medically-assisted suicide are usually about autonomy, that an individual wants control of their life and their dying, but that principal of autonomy sits in balance with care for the vulnerable in our community,” Prof Kissane.

“Palliative care is a much better answer and there’s a need for its continued funding to optimise the care of those who are sick and those who are terminally ill.

Dean of medicine at Notre Dame Sydney Professor Christine Bennett welcomed Prof Kissane’s joint appointment which will place him at the university’s Darlinghurst campus.

“He will provide an experienced public voice about the importance of palliative care research and the best end-of-life care,” she said.

Victoria passed voluntary euthanasia law in October last year.