Indigenous surgeon ‘terrified’ by WA euthanasia provision

Kelvin Kong (SBS News)

Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon says he is terrified by the McGowan Government’s plan to let doctors suggest voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia. Source: The Australian.

Associate professor Kelvin Kong, of the Worimi people of Port Stephens, north of Newcastle in New South Wales, said the priority should be change that improved the treatment and survival chances of Indigenous Australians with life-threatening illness.

Indigenous people with cancer tended to present late when their symptoms were well advanced, he said by way of example.

While Australia’s overall cancer survival rates were among the best in the world, there was a big disparity between the incidence and survival rates of Australians who were non-Indigenous and Australians who were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

“We are jumping to an end-stage conversation when we haven’t got all the pathways in cancer management leading up to palliative care,” he said.

Victoria was the first state to pass voluntary assisted dying laws in June, although its legislation lets doctors discuss it as an option only at a patient’s instigation.

In Western Australia, a bill that would allow doctors to raise the prospect of voluntary assisted dying with patients passed the lower house last month. Debate in the upper house is to begin in November.

The case for euthanasia laws is being considered in Queensland, while South Australia is also contemplating reform.

Professor Kong, an ear, nose and throat specialist who treats cancer patients in cities, rural towns and remote Aboriginal communities, said he was open to the concept of voluntary assisted dying laws but he believed that in terms of priorities in Indigenous health, the debate was happening in the wrong order.

“If we are serious about the betterment of our mob, we really need to increase things like early interventions,” he said.

Asked whether he had concerns about the proposed WA law letting a doctor instigate a conversation with an Aboriginal person about voluntary assisted dying, he said: “Yes, it terrifies me because you don’t know who that doctor is.

“There are some I know would handle it well and others not. No, this is not the right thing,” he said.

“Our medical training is really good at teaching us about disease, but it’s not really good at teaching us an understanding of cultural complexities, particularly with our most disenfranchised people.”


Indigenous surgeon ‘terrified’ by WA euthanasia provision (The Australian

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