17 March 2009

More controversy about euthanasia

The Weekend Australian ran a story by Julie Anne Davies variously headlined "Death drug delivered by mail" (print edition p1) / "Suicide drug of choice in mail" (online) .

Australians are illegally buying the euthanasia movement's lethal drug of choice on the internet from Mexico and receiving it by post without being detected by Customs authorities.

The person running the Mexican mail order business told The Weekend Australian he had successfully sent eight bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal to Australia in recent weeks.

The buyers had learnt about his service from euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke's latest version of his banned book, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, published by Exit International.

Yesterday and today the Oz has printed several letters, which can be read here and here. All of them support a relaxation, if not radical overhaul , of the existing law and its enforcement.

Monday: one letter published

The increasing number of people who are prepared to defy and break Australia’s ridiculously unjust laws that try to stop Australians ending their lives when they justifiably want to is proof of that.

It is many years since either suicide or attempted suicide was a crime in Australia.

The number of Australians who queue for Philip Nitschke’s workshops, and his growing number of admirers, are additional proof that the laws are not working. They are bringing the law into disrepute.

Nitschke is to be congratulated for what he does. However, as your interviewees remind us: breaking a law, even a bad law, can have serious consequences. A recent tragic manifestation of this was the NSW criminal trial and conviction of Caren Jenning and Shirley Justins followed by Caren Jenning’s suicide.

The stories reported in the article duplicate the thoughts and contemplations of my wife and I about what might be our future. We are elderly and neither enjoys good health. It is a taboo subject, but we, too, have contemplated in some way or another the South American option or of flying to Switzerland

Kep Enderby
Balmain, NSW

Today (Tuesday) - 4 letters published. Extracts from two of them:

...Independent opinion polls consistently show that more than 80 per cent of Australians want law reform and most want doctors to assist them to die with dignity.

Illegal importation of Nembutal risks a maximum penalty of 25years’ imprisonment or a $550,000 fine.

Contrast that with Washington state in the US, whose citizens have the right to request a legal prescription from their doctor to end their suffering if they have a terminal illness.

Oregon introduced this option 10 years ago and took care to include many safeguards. Its Health Department reports annually on how the act is working.

It does work well and the 2008 report, like those before it, puts to rest the fear-mongering that suggests people will be bumped off against their will.

Indeed, the number of people with terminal illness asking for assistance in Oregon remains low and half of those who receive a prescription do not end up using it.

This suggests that having the means to control the timing of one’s death and the assurance that the end will be peaceful has great psychological benefits to people faced with death.

Palliative care provides relief and often death but physical and psychological distress in many terminal illnesses is not relieved by this care and the dying person usually has no say in its timing.

Surely having the means to end one’s life before suffering becomes intolerable is a fundamental right that ought to be available to all Australians rather than tough penalties.

Law reform is inevitable—let’s get on with it.

Lyn Allison
President, Dying With Dignity Victoria
North Melbourne, Vic

....I am an 83-year-old World War II veteran and it would give me great peace of mind if I could get medical assistance to die in a dignified manner if I should lose quality of life.

It is my firm opinion that enforced prolonged life when quality of life is lost is a fate worse than death.

I fear degeneration far more than I fear death.

It is inhumane to leave those who have lost quality of life, whether it be a terminal illness or deterioration, to an extent that they are left confined to a nursing home suffering from dementia, incontinence and/or Alzheimer’s.

I would strongly recommend that everyone prepare an advance directive and appoint an enduring guardian, so that he/she has the authority to liaise with the doctor in the preparation of a health care management plan when quality of life is lost.

The health care management plan should provide that you not be subjected to any medical intervention or treatment aimed at prolonging life, and that any distressing symptoms (including any caused by lack of food or fluid) are controlled by appropriate analgesic or other treatment, even though this may shorten life.

For those wishing to avoid prolonged confinement in a nursing home and distress to loved ones, I would strongly recommend that they take this action while they are still of sound mind...

Bill Alcock
Port Macquarie, NSW

Last night ABC TV's Australian Story also dealt with the topic. For the next few days it can be viewed online and the transcript is here Worth a look (and the second part screens next week).

My view generally concurs with the passages quoted above. I'm confident that change will occur: the major unknown is when.

Update 18 March

Today's Australian publishes two letters replying to those of the last two days, all of which supported euthanasia. One is from Philip Nitschke, this (and the first to support an anti-euthanasia position) is the other :

Just when I was about to enjoy St Patrick’s Day, the bleak outlook of people wishing to take their own lives or have others do it for them (Letters 17/3) cast a real cloud, making me wonder just where this country is heading.

How about some hope, people.

John Kelly
Tranmere SA

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