EVERY week about five elderly Australians commit suicide, and euthanasia advocates say most of them hang themselves for lack of a better way to end their pain.
At the same time, keeping people alive with "futile" but expensive treatments in hospitals is both cruel and blowing out health budgets, an intensive care doctor says. Gideon Cordover, from Dying with Dignity, told news.com.au that his own father spent weeks researching how to kill himself before he was finally successful in 2009. Robert Cordover was a marine biologist who had multiple sclerosis. "For my dad, he couldn't go out to a restaurant, to a music recital, or hug his children or talk to them," Gideon said. "It was intolerable. Life wasn't worth living and it wasn't about quantity of life, it was about quality."
Eventually Robert travelled interstate and found a sympathetic doctor, then smuggled some medication home. He died at home with his family, after one last feast and one last sing-a-long. "Every week in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, four elderly Australians were committing violent suicide each week," Gideon said. "The vast majority is by hanging themselves. The explanation for that is that rope is very easy to get and access to information about how to hang yourself is easy to get … but information about a safe peaceful mediated death is not. When my father had to take his own life in 2009, he asked a lot of doctors for help and they all turned him away. They said simply the risk of prosecution is too great."
The latest ABS statistics show between four and five people aged 70 and over commit suicide each week. Gideon Cordover spoke at a Parliamentary forum on euthanasia on Monday. Ken Hillman, Professor of Intensive Care at UNSW and Director of The Simpson Centre for Health Services Research, also spoke at the forum. He says dying people end up on a "conveyor belt" in hospitals even when doctors have "nothing more to offer them". "We've got machines and drugs and we can keep almost anyone alive for long periods of time," he said. "We're not really allowed to talk about cost but it's about $3000 per patient per day. "That's one of the major causes of the unsustainable blowing out of the health budgets." Prof Hillman said politicians would "never get elected on a platform of ending lives", so a push for a proper discussion about euthanasia needs to come from the community as well as doctors.
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Euthanasia is back on the agenda as the Greens are pushing to overturn a ban on euthanasia in the NT and ACT, which outlawed it in those territories. Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale is planning to introduce legislation, which would again allow voluntary euthanasia. But the Australian Christian Lobby says there is no way to make euthanasia laws tight enough to be "safe", and that they would put the onus on vulnerable people to end their lives. "Feelings of social isolation and depression and of feeling a burden to others are common in those suffering with terminal illness, and euthanasia puts unacceptable pressure on them when they're in this vulnerable state," managing director Jim Wallace said.
"No amount of checks and balances by lawmakers could ensure people are not pressured because of their state of mind, or even because they are elderly and feel a burden to society." Mr Wallace wants more focus on palliative care services.