Catholic health and aged care providers have urged South Australian MPs to first hold an inquiry into how the state can fund a world class palliative care system before passing laws to enable state-sanctioned suicide.
Catholic Health Australia, the peak body representing hospital and aged care facilities, has written to MPs this week to highlight the need for improved palliative care rather than a scheme allowing terminally ill people to take their own life.
Every year between 6,000 and 10,000 South Australians require palliative care treatment but the current funding means the growing number of people who want to be treated in their own home are not getting the care they need at that critical time.
CHA Chief Executive Pat Garcia says: “When advocates for voluntary assisted dying (VAD) frame this as a choice between pain and death, it reduces a very complex and emotional process to a false dichotomy.”
“South Australians should never be forced to choose between pain and death,” he wrote.
“Today medical science can provide South Australia with another more compassionate path – a way that supports living and gives people additional precious moments with loved ones.
“That is why we believe the Marshall Government should first inquire into the state of palliative care in South Australia and examine why it appears so many South Australians – those whose stories are publicised by VAD advocates – are forced into making such a choice.”
The first finding of a Parliamentary inquiry held last year into end of life choices concluded that: “Palliative Care is a critical part of our health and wellbeing system although it requires a greater level of funding to ensure that it provides more consistent and equitable access.”
Mr Garcia adds: “Good palliative care is a life-supporting choice that manages pain using the latest technologies and analgesics and which research shows can improve and extend quality of life. Before we even consider doing South Australians a great disservice by allowing state-sanctioned suicide, the Government should first hold an inquiry into the true state of palliative care and invest in a world- class palliative care system.”
The letter also says that assisted suicide does not represent compassionate care but rather the abandonment of patients and warns that legislation can never fully protect the vulnerable from coercion and manipulation.
CHA is also calling for a clause in the current Bill granting medical personnel the ability to opt out of any VAD scheme on the grounds of conscientious objection to be extended to organisations.
Mr Garcia says: “If the Parliament passes these laws, then voluntary assisted dying must be voluntary for all, an expectation grounded in the Bill’s title. Any VAD scheme should be voluntary for all involved – clinical staff and medical officers and for the organisations that they work for.”