Young at Heart: Euthanasia: Let us decide

DR Rodney Syme is a courageous doctor, a strong advocate for euthanasia. In The Age this week he has challenged the law to “bring it on” and charge him over the assisted death of Steve Guest, who was dying of a debilitating, agonising cancer. 

Dr. Syme channelled the bravery of his grandfather at Gallipoli, a volunteer doctor with the Australian Anzacs: “If he can face what he had to, so can I.” 

Even a jail term no longer seems such a frightening prospect to this brave man. He is deluged daily with requests for help from dying people. 

As one letter writer wrote, “Rodney Syme has campaigned for years to achieve what politicians nationwide have for generations been unwilling to provide – a mechanism that would allow us to die with dignity at a time of our choosing when no other option is viable (yesterday’s The Age).

There is a photo that haunts me. It was in The Age recently and showed an elderly woman in a nursing home, tube inserted in her nose, her son sitting helplessly beside her. The patient has dementia, is bedridden, totally unaware of her surroundings.

Inserted next to this photo is one of a stunning young woman – the woman she once was. Is this how she would have liked to finish her days? I don’t think so!

Her family feel  helpless and devastated, watching their beautiful proud mother in this tragic comatose state. Surely she is entitled to a peaceful death.

A fact sheet from the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society recently reported that ‘Over three-quarters of Australians give an affirmative response to the following question: “If a hopelessly ill patient, experiencing unrelievable suffering, with absolutely no chance of recovering, asks for a lethal dose, should a doctor give a lethal dose or not?” That vote is overwhelmingly in favour of euthanasia.

What is our society thinking of? How can people who claim to be compassionate and loving allow this to happen to their fellow man?

I don’t want to be told that “only God can take what he has given... life”.  I don’t accept that. I would much rather God was taking greater care of those who really need His immediate attention – the homeless, the abused, victims of violence, the asylum seekers, the Syrians, the countries where life is cheap. 

He doesn’t need to be hovering over an eighty-year-old woman who, given a choice, would much prefer to die than live the way she is forced to live. “Force” is the word I deliberately choose, because that is what is happening to these very ill or very debilitated people. Because euthanasia is simply not an option, their death is slow and excruciating, not only for the patient but for their relatives who can only stand by and watch.

Palliative drugs can only do so much.

I have never believed “end of life” decisions should be made only by the family. That can bring some very acquisitive people out of the woodwork, but if at least two independent medically trained persons can support a personal or family decision then surely a gentle end to life is better than the story the photo depicted.

Why can’t politicians show some real leadership on this issue? No one will be forced into that choice, and that can be clearly stated in the wishes of a person to their family, doctor and solicitor.

Our Victorian Parliamentarians have once again been asked to consider this vexed matter even as I write this column. Let us hope they begin to listen to those three-quarters of the Australian people. Show some courage!

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