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Victoria’s rising euthanasia rate shows governments won’t bear the cost of compassion

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Last week, it was reported that chief executives of community health programs in Victoria were phoned by government bureaucrats to warn them that they should brace for funding cuts of up to 15 per cent.

Violet Platt, the CEO of Palliative Care Victoria, told 7News that in the next ten years, there will be a 50 per cent increase in the need for palliative care and that funds are needed now to grow the specialist workforce that they will need to cater to this need going forward. Instead of more money, they will likely receive less. Platt also said that Palliative Care Victoria has “had a shortfall in funding year-on-year for at least the last five years.”

Is it a coincidence that the state’s euthanasia and assisted suicide were passed five years ago? Is it just blind chance that the year-on-year shortfall in palliative care funding coincided with the passage of these deathly laws? Will the parliamentary review of the euthanasia and assisted suicide laws, due to begin in June, give us the answer?

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I doubt it will. Instead, we can expect that those who are pushing the euthanasia and assisted suicide bandwagon will advocate for further loosening of the laws to allow even more people access to lethal drugs.

We are already hearing the list of demands from activists.

They want to remove the requirement that a specialist in a patient’s condition be one of the doctors who signs off on their death. Instead, they want to allow even those with no expertise in a patient’s illness to be able to give them a terminal diagnosis and prescribe the lethal medication.

They also want to let these doctors be able to do it all by telehealth, so that they don’t ever need to meet or physically examine a patient before approving their access to lethal meds. They want doctors to be able to suggest euthanasia to patients, ignoring the power imbalance between doctor and patient, and they want to scrap the idea that a patient should only have 6 months to live before being able to take their own lives, replacing it with any time after they receive a terminal diagnosis (even if they could live for years.)

Any one of these changes would guarantee that more people would be eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide. All of them together would see the number killed each year expand significantly. The troubling thing is, though, that the program is already expanding at an exponential rate.

More than 600 people died in the first three years of the laws being in operation, which is more than double the number of deaths Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews anticipated would have occurred by now.

The small amount of information available shows the death rates are increasing. There were 131 euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths in the first year the laws came into effect and 269 deaths in its third year, an increase of more than 100 per cent in just three short years.

To put these numbers in perspective, the 269 euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths that occurred in Victoria in the 2021-2022 financial year is higher than the number of deaths that have occurred in any single year in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997. Victoria is already on track to double Oregon’s average annual number of deaths, despite the whole process being relatively new.

Rather than question why the number of deaths is already so high, I am certain that the review will make all the recommendations above – and more – ensuring that the death rate rises even higher.

It would be wonderful if we could trust that the parliamentary inquiry would take its focus off the activists and instead ask serious questions about palliative care availability and funding, and how a lack in each of these removes end-of-life choice for the terminally ill, but I am not that naïve.

The horrible truth is that euthanasia and assisted suicide are budget-saving measures. Health care is expensive and health care at the end of life is the most expensive of all. Expanding the categories of eligibility not only appeases the death on demand activists, it saves money while being couched in language of ‘compassion.’

A good test for compassion, though, is whether it costs anything. A person (or a government) that claims to be acting out of ‘compassion’ while saving themselves time, money and the need to strengthen the medical and palliative care workforce probably has a different motivation.

Compassion costs. Euthanasia doesn’t.

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