We need to rethink how we approach death

Doctors not properly trained to discuss death with patients (Bigstock)

We do not like to talk about death, but that doesn't make euthanasia the answer, writes Richard Chye, director of palliative care, St Vincent's Health Australia, Sydney, in the Sydney Morning Herald.

One of the hallmarks of the euthanasia debate so far – in NSW and Victoria – has been the determination of its proponents to depict any opposition as being based purely on religion. So, before I go on, perhaps it would help to make the following clear.

I am not religious. I do not follow a faith. While I work for a Catholic healthcare organisation, my views are based on my longstanding clinical experience and medical evidence, not on dogma.

It's important to be clear about this because I would like my contribution to be considered solely through a clinical lens.

No fair-minded person questions the starting position of any person actively engaged on this issue, however they feel about euthanasia: we all agree that too many Australians experience painful and undignified deaths.

However, my view, after a lifetime's work in palliative care – having stood at the bedside of literally thousands of dying people – is that none of the issues that bring us to this point will be solved by introducing assisted suicide.

What will help requires far more of ourselves, our institutions and authorities: the adequate funding of quality palliative care for all, and nothing short of a revolutionary change in the way we discuss, respond to, and accept death – both as individuals and as a society.

Almost every aspect of the way our society approaches death – including within healthcare – needs rethinking.

We set our doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals up to fail from the beginning by not training them in how to talk to their patients about death and dying.

We don't train them how to say "no" to patients anxious for a cure – no to another round of chemotherapy, no to another operation – and explain why.

We similarly neglect educating tomorrow's health workers in palliative care and how – if provided early enough – it can make a world of difference to a person's final journey.

It's why so many Australians have horror stories of friends and family dying terrible deaths; and frankly, it's what drives much of the public's visceral support for euthanasia.

But assisted suicide will not change any of the above. If anything, it's a diversion from the real challenge.


We do not like to talk about death but that doesn't make euthanasia the answer (Sydney Morning Herald)


Last minute changes to Euthanasia laws put to state parliament (Herald Sun)

Euthanasia: Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill likely to pass with amendments (ABC News)

Terminally ill to watch NSW dying debate (SBS News)

John Anderson: We should be voting to end pain — not life (Daily Telegraph)

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