Legalised euthanasia would be a ‘national disaster’

Features Jane Langham and Cecily McNeill2 October 2012 Palliative care specialist Sinéad Donnelly says she presumes the prime minister is confusing the ceasing of curative treatments with euthanasia when he…


Jane Langham and Cecily McNeill
2 October 2012

Palliative care specialist Sinéad Donnelly says she presumes the prime minister is confusing the ceasing of curative treatments with euthanasia when he says he supports its legalisation.

John Key told Newtalk ZB on August 23, ‘I think there’s a lot of euthanasia that effectively happens in our hospitals’.

Dr Donnelly who chairs the Australasian Association of Palliative Care Specialists, told Radio New Zealand’s Catherine Ryan the following day that she doesn’t think the prime minister realises the work that goes into caring for the dying.
‘I presume it’s a misunderstanding. The prime minister is not a healthcare professional and there may be confusion among lay people.’

Withholding or withdrawing treatment might happen in intensive care when a person is on a ventilator machine. After some days doctors may realise that the machine is artificially prolonging someone’s life.

Hospice New Zealand’s clinical nursing adviser Anne Morgan told Catherine Ryan that the amounts of drugs administered to the dying are worked out very carefully.
‘We can manage symptom relief very well with a combination of medications that will provide comfort at the end of life.’

‘We would not just wind up drugs.’

She says in 30 years of nursing people at the end of their lives, she could count on one hand the number of times a patient had asked for their life to be ended sooner.
‘Usually the request comes because of distress and you can usually find what is causing them to be distressed.’

She said people need to understand that ‘experienced health professionals actually care very deeply for the patients in their care’.

When people say they would like control over when their lives end, they are usually well.
‘Life becomes very important the closer we get to death,’ Dr Donnelly said. ‘People often have very good quality time with their families.’

A few days earlier Dr Donnelly had spoken at a forum in the Porirua Pastoral Area titled ‘Living Well, Dying Well’. She said Maryan Street’s ‘End of Life Choices’ bill which, if passed, would be the most liberal euthanasia law anywhere in the world, would be a national disaster. Other speakers were founding director of the Nathaniel Centre Fr Michael McCabe, John Kleinsman, current director of the Nathaniel Centre and Viviana Fon, a counsellor with Mary Potter Hospice.

Calls for euthanasia came only in Western societies and usually for social and cultural reasons rather than relief of physical pain. They were often a result of social isolation. Better health care leads to longer life but this may still be with infirmity. Also much current thought insists on the ‘right’ to have control over everything including our body.

People were encouraged to volunteer at the hospices. Some 500,000 volunteer hours are given each year to hospices in the Wellington region – and more are always welcome.

We can also talk to others about our views and inform them of the facts – that what dying people want is to be able to say ‘sorry’, to be forgiven, to be loved, to be listened to and that the soul can continue to grow right to the end. We can learn to be with others as they face their final journey.

Image: MC Tony Lenton from Plimmerton parish with Viviana Fon, Fr Michael McCabe, Dr Sinéad Donnelly and John Kleinsman.