Australian Assisted Dying Report - A sugar coated poison pill

“vulnerable people—the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed—would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death” House of Lords.
Paul Russell

Paul Russell

By Paul Russell

The Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament handed down its Report into End-of-Life choices in Victoria today.

The extensive report makes some valuable comments and recommendations in respect to improvement in palliative care.

It acknowledges that access to palliative care is patchy, is overburdened and needs improvement. In a country rated recently as second in an international table for end-of-life care, it still remains that the availability of such care is more closely related to postcode than it is to need.

The committee heard from many individuals whose family members had passed away in circumstances that were clearly far from what all Victorians would want and certainly far from best practice. The committee seems to take it as read that such cases are compelling proof that Victoria needs a regimen of ‘assisted dying’ – euthanasia or assisted suicide. Few, I contend, are that clear.

While family members submitting their stories to the committee often (but note: not always) called for legislative change, the submissions and stories may well have been evidence of poor care, lack of care options or, indeed, refusal of good care options; we simply do not know. For the committee to seem so easily to have accepted that poor deaths require the State of Victoria to help people to suicide is a travesty as much as it is the potential abandonment of people in great need.

Certainly, the admission that palliative care is still not able to meet the needs of Victorians is an important one and we welcome all policy and planning decisions that bridge the gap between need and availability. Sadly, however, the committee seems intent that, for those who cannot access such care, being made dead is an option. This is a failure of the committee’s stated aims to improve choice; suicide in such circumstances is no choice at all.

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Elder Abuse - a very real concern

This article was published by Hope Australia on May 27. Paul Russell is the director of Hope Australia.

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Elder Abuse is a serious issue. The abuse of elderly people by unscrupulous relatives or carers or people who befriend a lone elder with sinister motive vexes authorities.

Why? Because it is a mostly hidden phenomenon of people who will have a diminished ability to speak out by virtue of the abuse itself or because of their isolation.

Characterised mostly by greed over finances, elder abuse has also been noted as physical, emotional and even sexual abuse of a vulnerable elderly person.

The image of such a person is perhaps of one who is aware of the abuse but has no ability to complain. This may not always be the case. It is also possible that a person offers excellent care and support of an individual at all times and uses their friendship and influence to have the elderly person make over their estate to them at the exclusion of any other beneficiary.

The recent story of a nurse gaining the full estate of an elderly Melbourne man may well be such a case. I say 'may be' deliberately because, to date, no case has been proven against Abha Anuradha Kumar, who managed aged care facility Cambridge House, where Lionel Cox was being cared for.

Friends of Mr Cox have questioned the new will created only weeks before Mr Cox passed away witnessed by two other staff at the care facility. Spellng corrections, shaky handwriting and other errors in the drawing up of the newest will cast additional suspicions. Ms Kumar stands to gain more than $AU900,000.

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Netherlands: New push for suicide pill

This article was published on the HOPE Australia website on May 24.

By Paul Russell, the director of Hope Australia

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

There’s a question that I have put to those who are pushing for euthanasia and assisted suicide laws on occasion. Put simply I ask: If you are successful in your push for law reform on this subject, will you celebrate your victory and then close down your organisation? After all, if the objective is reached, what else is there to do?

I expect that there would be ‘rank-and-file’ members of the various societies and organisations on this bandwagon who may well think: job done, back to the gardening (or other pursuits). But not so the leadership.

Unless a parliament is willing, in the first instance, to legislate euthanasia and assisted suicide for everyone in any circumstance, there will always be more to agitate for. Of course, such a bold initial push is never likely to happen. That’s why, in observing repeated attempts to legislate in my home state of South Australia, we see variations on the theme in the many different ways that bills have been designed and presented, all with the primary goal of getting something (anything!) on the statutes. Go for the full agenda and failure is guaranteed; go for a minimalist approach and maybe success will come, enabling, thereafter, the possibility of an incremental agenda.

We are seeing this in Canada at the moment with the excise of euthanasia and assisted suicide for minors and for mental health issues from the debate and the promise of revisiting that agenda in three years’ time. Even in Belgium, which enacted the most liberal of euthanasia laws in 2002, we saw the amendment to include children pass in the parliament in 2013. In Holland there is continued agitation for euthanasia under the term ‘tired of life’ or ‘completed life’, ostensibly for people over the age of 70. The Dutch parliament is also looking into child euthanasia whilst already having euthanasia available for ‘emancipated minors’ from the age of 12.

Today the Dutch news is reporting that two euthanasia organisations are renewing their push for the so-called ‘Drion Pill’ to be available ‘for people who do not qualify for euthanasia.’

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Shakira Hussein: Why I don't support euthanasia (and you shouldn't either)

This article was published by Hope Australia on May 19, 2016

By Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

The Victorian Parliament's Committee looking into end-of-life issues is due to table a report into its 10 month investigation at the end of this month. Time will tell whether or not they have given appropriate weight to the many excellent submissions from professionals and professional organisations working in palliative medicine. I have my doubts.

Recent press from Victoria suggests that the report will recommend some form of 'assisted dying', whatever that means.

Melbourne academic and commentator, Shakira Hussein, in a recent article at Crikey.com notes the momentum behind the push for law change including media focus on particular cases and, of course, the podcast series and other media appearances by journalist, Andrew Denton.

Of these interventions, she observes that, 'they received a sympathetic response from many who fulminated about right-wing religious politicians refusing to allow patients to choose the time and manner of their deaths. And it’s an issue that is gaining momentum' adding that it, 'is widely supported by many who would consider themselves to be broadly left-wing and/or feminist. Yet I would argue that this constituency ought to be very wary of the attitudes and assumptions underlying legalised euthanasia.'

Hussein bursts the bubble of euthanasia mythology that would have us believe that opposition is the sole preserve of the right of politics. There are legitimate arguments and reasons for not supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide from across the full spectrum on political thinking; reasoning that is accessible to anyone with a mind to think beyond the sloganeering.

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Australia Health Minister opposes euthanasia

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

The following article was published on the Hope Australia website on April 1, 2016.

By Paul Russell

On March 31 Australia’s Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley MP confirmed that she does not support euthanasia.

Ms Ley was speaking at an event in Brisbane Australia organised by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

A short report on the News.com.au website stated:

More should be done to improve end of life care for Australians but euthanasia is not the answer, Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley says. 
"I am the health minister and I do not support euthanasia," Ms Ley told a CEDA lunch in Brisbane on Thursday. 
"I, however, recognise that we should be able to do a lot better than we currently do, not in everyone's case but in many, with end of life care." 
A regime providing medical cannabis was the first step, she said, while funding provided to the states for palliative care was also being examined.

Ms Ley’s statement came at the same time as Federal Department of Health Secretary, Martin Bowles, told CEDA that there are reforms needed for the long term sustainability of Australia’s health system. Mr Bowles outlined the pressures facing Australia’s health system, particularly for disadvantaged communities, those in aged care, with chronic illnesses and relying on mental health systems.

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Nitschke roadshow - it's a business after all

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

This article was published on the Hope Australia website on June 5, 2016

By Paul Russell 

The director of Hope Australia & Vice Chair of EPC - International

It seems that it isn't enough to provide people with information on how to get an illegal euthanasia drug sent to people from overseas; now Philip Nitschke and Exit want to provide tests so that people will know that what came in the mail will 'do the job'.

News reports about Exit's meeting in Canberra, Australia seem to suggest that this is something new. I suppose there has to be a hook here; a reason for the article. The reality is that Nitschke has been doing this now for sometime. If there's a twist it is that the article talks about learning to test the drug at home whereas previously Nitschke had testing apparatus in the back of a small van.

That van was also a delivery vehicle for 'Max Dog' nitrogen cylinders - another of Nitschke's semi-do-it-yourself suicide methods. He's also been working in Switzerland on a new mechanised death-delivery system he calls 'The Destiny Machine' which was also 'demonstrated' at his comedy shows in Edinburgh and most recently in Melbourne.

Suicide is clearly big business! I have always thought it odd that the media paints Nitschke as a 'euthanasia activist' when, in reality, his business model is built on selling suicide or 'self-deliverance' while legal euthanasia would likely curtail his sales figures somewhat by getting doctors and pharmacy involved. But somehow, when there's a sick or disabled person involved, or even someone who expects to become sick or disabled, it is suddenly not about suicide.

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'Cowboy' suicide doctor in Australia may be riding into his own sunset

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

This article was written by Paul Russell, the director of Hope Australia and published by Hope Australia on March 9, 2016.

By Paul Russell

My colleague, Alex Schadenberg called Dr Rodney Syme ‘a cowboy’ last year in relation to Syme admitting to have supported the suicide deaths of approximately 100 people over a number of years.

Syme seems either to have been beguiled by the cult of celebrity or maybe he truly wants to become a martyr for a cause. Either way, he seems comfortable appearing in the press from time to time making outrageous and unsustainable claims about having helped yet another ill person to take their own life. I say ‘outrageous and unsustainable’ because while seeming to be goading the authorities to arrest him and to make a test case out of his actions, he never provides enough (if any) evidence to them or to the public to back up his claims.

And while he told Andrew Denton recently that he gets ‘annoyed’ when the word ‘suicide’ is used, it is against the statute that prohibits assisting in ‘suicide’ that his actions might be measured if he ever backs up his rhetoric with proofs. When a person kills themself, it is a suicide; the circumstances don’t change that reality.

But he provides no proof. Even in the death of Ray Godbold, covered extensively by the Fairfax Press in May 2015, where the journalist reports on a moment in time (with pictures) that perhaps should have had the authorities acting.

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