All too often I am told that older Australians are made by society to feel like a burden. A big part of this stems from our obsession with maintaining our youth; wherever we go we are faced with glossy magazines, television commercials and beauty products that position ageing as something to avoid
I hold grave fears about how the introduction of voluntary euthanasia into a society with our ageist views will change the way we view the sanctity of life.
Voluntary euthanasia cannot promote the dignity or humanity of vulnerable older Australians in an environment in which our elderly feel undervalued, ignored and forgotten. Instead, it further will entrench ageist views, desensitise us to euthanasia and ultimately lead to a devaluation of life and premature death.
The law dictates that government must protect all individuals and govern in the interests of all Australians — we must protect the vulnerable at all costs.
International evidence from places such as The Netherlands — where euthanasia has been used to end the lives of people living with dementia, those suffering from depression or the elderly who are “tired of living” — cement my fears that voluntary euthanasia will fail to protect the most vulnerable people in society.
I am particularly concerned that euthanasia may increase the risk of elder financial abuse and subsequently put pressure on older people to opt for voluntary euthanasia.
Elder abuse is more prevalent than we care to think. How are we to know if someone is being persuaded to view themselves as a burden and encouraged to adopt euthanasia by their family or carer?
I also am concerned about reports of older people who don’t think they have a right to plan their own end-of-life care — because they do.
Everyone has a right to choose their end-of-life care, and governments at state and federal levels have an obligation to educate people about their options, and to encourage them to have discussions with their family, medical professionals and carers about how they want to die.
Unlike voluntary euthanasia, end-of-life care or palliative care shows older Australians their life is valued and they are worthy of care regardless of their age or physical ability.
By the 2050s more than one in every four Australians will be aged over 65. What safeguards are there to ensure that our ageing population isn’t affected by the pressure on governments to reduce the costs of caring for older people, which could be reduced if assisted dying/euthanasia procedures are in place?
People who advocated for the Victorian Assisted Dying Bill 2017 claimed there were safeguards at every stage to protect the vulnerable, but as former prime minister Paul Keating put it, rightly, “no law and no process can achieve that objective”.
It was disheartening to see Victorian parliamentarians in the lower house ignore the safety and ethical concerns of many medical professionals and palliative care experts when voting in favour of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 last month.
If we want to change the culture of dying we should be looking at our end-of-life care system because it’s brimming with untapped potential but significantly underfunded. People should be able to rest assured knowing the end-of-life care and support they deserve will be there for them. We must not let voluntary euthanasia take the attention and resources away from this.
This doesn’t have to be about religion; the concerns I have are shared by people of religious faith and no religious faith. It’s about civilisational ethics and the principal of human life, and from where I’m standing there are too many risks and too many undesirable consequences.
This article was originally published in The Australian on Friday 29 December 2017.
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