Palliative doctors’ response to TV1 show

Editor’s note. The following is a media release from ANZSPM–The Australian & New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine Inc.

The TV1, 7pm news programme on Sunday 16th September 2012 described the tragic story of Rosie’s death, a person with multiple sclerosis.  As a society of Palliative Medicine doctors we care for patients with advanced multiple sclerosis as well as patients with advanced illnesses from many other sources.  Unlike last night’s distressing story of Rosie’s decision, the patients we care for with multiple sclerosis do not have their lives ended prematurely and do not request this.  In our experience patients with advanced illnesses such as multiple sclerosis can be supported, as well as their family and friends, by multidisciplinary team of Palliative Care with community general practice and hospital support.    Rosie’s daughter Amy Nankivell said in the documentary she regretted that no one had said to her mother not to kill herself.  In our opinion the  legalisation of euthanasia in New Zealand would be the equivalent of this state and society  saying, when someone expresses that life is difficult, “yes go ahead, let’s end your life.” rather than as Rosie’s daughter suggested saying “no don’t do it, we will look after you”.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine Inc., (ANZSPM), believes that the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide are outside the discipline of Palliative Medicine. The Society endorses the New Zealand Medical Association’s Position Statement on Euthanasia, and similarly the World Medical Association’s which state that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are unethical. This position is not dependent on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide remaining unlawful. Even if they were to become legal, or decriminalised, the NZMA would continue to regard them as unethical.

ANZSPM recommends that a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide be acknowledged with respect and be extensively explored in order to understand, appropriately address and if possible remedy the underlying difficulties that gave rise to the request.   Appropriate ongoing care consistent with the goals of Palliative Medicine should continue to be offered.  ANZSPM recommends that when requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide arise, particular attention be given to gaining good symptom control, utilising the skills of a multidisciplinary team.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM) is a society of medical practitioners who practice or have an interest in palliative medicine. The full ANZSPM position statement on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide can be found at www.anzspm.org.au.