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We will not kill patients: Catholic hospitals to defy euthanasia laws

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Leaders of Australian Catholic healthcare providers have vowed not to facilitate euthanasia in their hospitals or other premises should assisted dying be legalised.

The Chief Executive Officer of St Vincent’s Health Australia Toby Hall, told The Catholic Weekly that St Vincent’s will stick to its principles to “do no harm”, even if a Bill legalising euthanasia is passed in NSW.

“Our position in NSW, should the private members’ Bill pass the Parliament, is the same as in Victoria: we will not provide any services or support for assisted suicide,” he said.

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“We’ve already sent correspondence to all NSW MPs encouraging them not to support the [proposed] legislation.”

St Vincent’s Health is Australia’s largest Catholic not-for-profit health and aged care provider.

St Vincent’s CEO Toby Hall has committed Australia’s largest Catholic healthcare provider to not providing euthanasia, should any laws legalise the practice.

Mr Hall said that regardless of the outcome of the debates in Victoria or NSW, none of their sites will provide euthanasia or assisted suicide.

“Under the proposed Victorian regime, healthcare providers can choose whether or not to provide assisted suicide. As a result, if the Bill passes, St Vincent’s will not provide services or support for assisted suicide at any of our facilities.”

Mark Green, National Director of Mission at Calvary Care, which operates 15 hospitals in Australia, including in Melbourne and Kogarah, says that Calvary will not participate if the legislation is passed in Victoria or in NSW.

Voluntary assisted dying “is not something Calvary can assist any person with in their home, in our residential aged care facilities, in our hospitals or in any Calvary services”.

Mr Green cited several concerns with the bills, including the proposed clinical regimen’s “known complications, safety and effectiveness”, an undermining of the commitment to “do no harm”, heightened division among medical professionals, and a lack of protections for people who are dependent on the care of others.

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If the law is changed, Calvary will assess the impact and discuss the implications with its staff; including the management of requests from patients, residents, or clients, he said.

“For those people who may choose to access VAD, we would explore the reasons for that request, however we would not assist in any way.

“Calvary will not change the way in which we currently deliver compassionate palliative and end of life care; we will continue to optimise quality of life and support people and their families.

“Consistent with our mission of care for those approaching the end of life, Calvary will continue to provide our usual model of care and holistic support to those people who may be considering accessing VAD.”

Catholic Health Australia and heads of NSW hospitals and health providers have voiced fierce opposition to assisted suicide following the passage of a “dangerous” bill in Victoria’s lower house on 20 October.

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CHA Chief executive officer Suzanne Greenwood urged members of Victoria’s Legislative Council to “deeply consider the impacts this bill will have on vulnerable people and the greater community” when given the opportunity to vote on it next week.

The NSW Parliament is currently considering the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 (NSW). The Bill is co-sponsored by MPs Alex Greenwich, Trevor Khan, Lee Evans, Mehreen Faruqi and Lynda Voltz.

In Victoria the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 was passed last week by the lower house in a vote of 37 to 27. Mrs Greenwood said that it was disappointing that parliamentarians “neglected to heed the safety and ethical concerns of many medical professionals and palliative care experts when voting in favour of this flawed and dangerous bill”.

She called instead for improved resourcing of palliative health care, particularly in regional areas.

“Should we not, as a society, be first dedicating a greater level of resources to improving the living person’s ability to experience a meaningful period of life, leading to death, rather than accepting that the wish to suicide be the product of clarity, unaffected perspective and a mind free of mental illness?” she asked.

A number of Catholic hospital chiefs have also lined up to condemn attempts to introduce euthanasia and assisted suicide in Victoria and NSW.

In Victoria, St Vincent’s sees more than 53,000 admissions each year across three hospitals: Fitzroy, East Melbourne and Kew, with a fourth site (Weribee) set to open in 2017.

St Vincent’s presence in NSW includes St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney in Darlinghurst, and the Sacred Heart Health Service, which one of Australia’s largest and leading palliative care and rehabilitation providers.

Sacred Heart has 39 palliative care beds, as well as a community palliative care team which visits patients in their homes and in residential aged care facilities across parts of Sydney.

St Vincent’s also runs St Joseph’s public hospital in Auburn, which includes palliative care, rehabilitation and mental health services for older members of the community. In the case of euthanasia being legalised in NSW or Victoria, Mr Hall says that St Vincent’s will continue to act within state and federal laws and will respect patients’ choices.

“St Vincent’s will support patients who want euthanasia in their transfer to another health care provider,” he said.

Hall suggests that the initial attraction people have to euthanasia and assisted suicide could be due to the natural “anxiety” we have around death.

“My view is that we can go a long way to addressing ‘death anxiety’ in our community,” he said.

He proposed a three-pronged approach: adequately funding high quality palliative care; encouraging a deeper and more open public conversation about death and dying; and training doctors and nurses in how to converse with people about dying.

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