More boomers considering euthanasia

Euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke has claimed that a growing number of older Australians are exploring the process of ‘rational suicide’ in order to control the timing and method of their end of life.

According to the former doctor, there are thousands of baby boomers and people over 70 investigating ways to end painful suffering when seriously ill. A growing number of people do not want to feel trapped in “end of life medical nightmares” when in hospital or a care home and unable to take their own life.

Nitschke claims that people who are not willing to lose control of their lives and are used to getting their own way are stashing lethal drugs, which can be used when needed, to end their lives. Most of these people are also putting themselves at considerable legal risk, at risk of scams and even blackmail from suppliers who threaten to advise authorities.

Even when such drugs are intercepted by customs, Mr Nitschke says he knows of only three people who have been prosecuted for importing the drugs that and even then, they have only been given fines.

In response to a story published in Fairafx Media last week about Exit International members who had taken their own lives, Mr Nitschke has called on the importing of such drugs to be decriminalised for those aged over 70.

Exit International’s teaching of techniques on how to commit suicide has come under fire from Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Centre, who claims it’s peddling the myth that the end of life is painful and badly handled by the medical profession. He says that while some people understand exactly what they are doing when they end their lives, there are a number of vulnerable people who are influenced by Exit International’s approach.

Professor Hickie says patients would be better served if authorities placed greater importance on promoting healthy ageing and providing the right care and support in later years. He says it’s important for anyone considering euthanasia to examine the reasons for doing so and to discuss this with their families. “It’s a dialogue we need to have … There shouldn’t be a need to check out at any age.”

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Opinion: A change of heart

My heart breaks when I hear of someone considering taking their own lives because the thought of prolonging a life of pain and illness is just too awful to contemplate. For each individual the circumstances are different and very personal, as is the decision whether to carry on or not.

There is no right response to the issue of euthanasia. That a person is suffering to such an extent that no longer living is a better outcome is simply not fair. It’s not fair that it’s happening in the first place and it’s not fair that we choose to pass judgment on the choices that they make.

I have always thought that when my time came I would be strong enough to make the choice to say enough is enough, but now I’m not so sure. And the catalyst for my doubt is something so trivial that’s it’s almost too embarrassing to say out loud. But here goes…

During the Christmas break I watched the superb Aussie movie, Last Cab to Darwin. For those who are not familiar with the story, it’s about a taxi driver who has terminal cancer and has decided enough is enough. So he decides to drive from Broken Hill to Darwin, to take advantage of the passing of a law that would, to all intents and purposes, legalise euthanasia. To cut a long, but tremendous story, short, when push comes to shove, he is unable to press the button, choosing instead to see out his natural life with his friends. 

And watching this movie made me think, it’s often not about your own pain and suffering, but that of those you leave behind. Perhaps one more day with your loved ones, no matter how difficult, is worth more than ending your own pain.

Moral, ethical, legal and religious aspects aside, the decision to end your life is never an easier one, yet it’s one that many terminally ill people would make if they had the choice. For others, it’s never a consideration. Until the time comes, few of us can be sure which path we would take.

Do you think euthanasia should, at the very least, be decriminalised? Is it up to the individual to make the choice? Or should people just accept the natural end when it’s your time?

Should euthanasia be legalised?

If you need help or information, call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636

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