Life Matters: The cost of ‘voluntary assisted dying’

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Life Matters: The cost of ‘voluntary assisted dying’

By Dr Brigid McKenna, Director, Office of Life, Marriage and Family

The Canadian Medical Association Journal carried an article in January, which calculated that when euthanasia in Canada reaches the level of Belgium and the Netherlands, the country’s health system could save up to up to C$139 million every year. 

Currently twenty percent of health care costs in some regions of Canada are incurred by patients who die within six months even though they are only one percent of the population. There are clearly substantial savings to be made if patients “forego this resource-intensive period” through euthanasia or assisted suicide.

At the same time, the other ‘costs’ involved in Canada’s social experiment with assisted suicide and euthanasia are beginning to be exposed. 

In the first seven months of assisted suicide in Quebec, not only was the number of people who died by this means (262) almost three times what was expected, but in eight per cent of cases, doctors were found to have not complied with the law. Eighteen of the cases did not have the opinion of a second, independent doctor; in two cases it was found that the person might not have been terminally ill; and in one case it was not clear that the person even had a serious illness.

Canada appears to be already following the experience of countries like the Netherlands and Belgium where it has been impossible to enforce euthanasia and assisted suicide laws, contain their incremental expansion, or adequately safeguard vulnerable people.

Australians usually like to identify parallels between our value system and way of life with those of Canada.  Now that Canada has legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide under the guise of ‘Medical Aid in Dying’ will we follow, and at what cost?

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016 is listed for debate in the Tasmanian House of Assembly from late March 2017.  Introduced by Member for Franklin, Lara Giddings MP and Member for Denison, Cassy O'Connor MP, it is similar in structure to a bill with the same name which was only narrowly defeated in 2013.  The bill sets up a scheme for the assisted suicide or euthanasia of a competent adult resident of Tasmania, who makes a voluntary request and is in the ‘advanced stages of a serious incurable and irreversible medical condition’. 

Notably, under this legislation, people would not even have to be dying in order to access euthanasia or assisted suicide.

As is usually the case, people on both sides of this debate are motivated by the desire to relieve fear and distress, and to provide options at the end of life. Nevertheless, voluntary assisted killing could come at a great cost to present and future generations of Tasmanians.  As ethicist Margaret Somerville regularly asks, ‘How do we want our great-great grandchildren to die?’  If we legalise assisted suicide/euthanasia what kind of society will they live in and what will be its shared values?’

Allowing some people to ‘die with dignity’ might prevent other dying, chronically ill or disabled people from living with dignity.

Even as parliament begins debate on this bill, the future of the state’s community education service about end of life care, Palliative Care Tasmania, depends entirely upon the state budget in May.  Surely, there is so much more Tasmania can do to promote genuinely compassionate and high quality end of life care, than to legalise medically assisted killing.

Further information, including advice on expressing opposition to this latest Tasmanian euthanasia bill can be found on the HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide website at: