“Assisted” Death.

Today was a big step forward in the world of medicine and for our quality of life in Australia. Today, Victoria’s Upper House of Parliament passed a ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying’ bill. Whilst it is one of the most conservative in the world of its kind, it offers a small percentage of those “sound-minded” and “terminally ill” an option to pass peacefully and medically assisted, which no doubt will be a relief for some.

We aren’t very good at dealing with death. It’s ugly. It’s hard. It’s confronting. It’s sad. Our inability to deal with the issue, however, is not an excuse to leave our loved ones without a voice. Saying goodbye is hard; but we are not the ones living through their experience; we are not ill; we are not bound to a hospital bed, poked and prodded. We are not the ones left incontinent of urine and faeces in our chair for hours, we are not the ones with unrelenting pain all over. We love them. We are not them. Let them go with dignity: let them have a voice. And, when they are unable to speak for themselves, let them be in peace.

This bill excludes many individuals – it is a bill that contains powerful and meaningful words… “sound mind”, “terminally ill within six months”, “over 18”, excluding many individuals from the accessing the choice. What about that dementia patient, who can’t remember her daughter? What about that patient with chronic pain, who has lived to ninety years old and she wants to be with her husband who passed many years ago? What about that sixty year old, rife with medications and interventions so delicately balanced he only just sustains compatibility with life? What about…..

“Assisted” death isn’t a new concept. It’s done all over the world, and in a sense we do it in Australia. For example, the patient who opts out of receiving his dialysis therapy… His kidneys have failed. He is unable to sustain life without connecting to that machine three days per week. We allow him to cease it; he is of sane mind and he has many comorbidities; he has lived his life and now wishes to go with grace. He has that choice; it is his right to refuse medical intervention. That’s assisted dying, no? Or perhaps by “assisted”, the phrase is meant in the sense of a medical professional actually administering a substance that will end of your life. How, though, is not administering dialysis, for example, different?

It’s a thousand times different… and then again, it’s not that different at all. It is such a vexed issue – ethically, legally, morally, emotionally, physically… There never will be a right or wrong answer, but I think we need to broaden our minds a little. Until you have been exposed to the ill on an intimate and regular basis, it is hard to grasp an understanding regarding the need for “assisted dying” in a broader sense. Every persons experience is personal, different, unique and intimate. You’re mums experience of xx disease may be very different from his mums experience. But then again, how can you be sure this person will die within the next 6 months? How can you make that decision for a twenty year old? After all, medical miracles happen…

It’s a step in the right direction, but perhaps over time we can learn to acknowledge and appreciate death in a different sense, and the appropriate changes to the scheme can be made.

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