The euthanasia debate: Death is not a black-and-white issue

By June 25, 2019 Recent News

Stuff 24 June 2019
Family First Comment: An excellent piece by Amanda Landers (who spoke at our Forum last year) “The answer to bad deaths is not euthanasia. The answer is a better understanding of basic medical ethics, of palliative medicine, of what happens to the body when it is dying, and how to care for  someone at the end of life.”

OPINION: I get the feeling the general public think death is a black-and-white issue. I cannot think of a subject that has more grey.

I trained for 13 years to be a palliative medicine specialist. I attended Otago Medical School, completed advanced training in Australia and New Zealand and have been a specialist for 10 years.

Palliative care is multi-disciplinary to match the many dimensions of a person and their family/whanau. I have been dismayed at the attacks on our area of medicine in the media and on the health professionals who dedicate their lives to looking after these vulnerable New Zealanders.

In reading social media pages, I have realised there are many misconceptions that have taken root in our community which need weeding out. One of these misconceptions is that euthanasia and withdrawing medical intervention is one and the same.

I was asked to see a lady in her 80s with heart failure who lived in a rest home. She was asking her doctor to stop all her heart medication. The woman had discussed it with her daughter who was present and I could see she understood the decision may shorten her life, allowing nature to take its course. I agreed to her request and she thanked me profusely.

She said something that changed my practice immensely: “I would not be alive in any other century,” she said. I realised this is true.

Withdrawing treatment is legally, ethically and morally her choice. But ultimately she will die of heart failure, not a lethal injection. This is the difference between a natural death and euthanasia.

Amanda Landers is a community palliative care physician and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch

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