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Ethical Challenges About Voluntary Assisted Dying

By Ian Haines

Much of the focus on new voluntary assisted dying laws is centred on patient autonomy, but it is only one of the four pillars. Does the legislation also satisfy the other three tenets of beneficence, non-maleficence and justice?

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Will voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation provide compassionate physician-assisted dying, as hoped, or are we providing state-sanctioned euthanasia and assisted suicide? It certainly raises some important ethical questions.

Many of the submissions in Victoria were about tragic cases of desperate and suffering people with incurable illness who had taken or attempted to take their lives in sometimes very horrific circumstances. There was also a focus on high-profile celebrities and politicians who had watched on feeling helpless as a loved one suffered and died.

Many of us would want to put these people “out of their misery” as soon as possible, wouldn’t we? But is it what the patients themselves would choose if they had access to high-quality palliative care and psychosocial intervention, which are their right under the other tents of ethical care?

There is every indication from the written submissions that this was often not offered or provided. Also, none of the high-profile celebrities and politicians indicated that their loved ones had strongly requested VAD when they were still capable of providing informed signed consent, or that their loved ones had received optimal palliative and psychosocial care.

When my own father died of advanced cancer he was like most of us and most of the thousands of patients with cancer that I have...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.