Three thought provoking articles to continue this growing debate…
Saturday 1 June 2013 5:o5 pm; Repeated: Wednesday 1pm
Presented by David Rutledge
Despite considerable advances in end-of-life care, the push to legalise voluntary euthanasia seems to be growing in intensity and desperation. For those who want to see euthanasia legislated, this amounts to a fundamental human right and a crucial expression of individual autonomy; for those who are opposed to legislation, this cuts against a conception of the sanctity of human life and represents a perfidious betrayal of the medical profession. This week, ABC Religion & Ethics Editor Scott Stephens tries to get behind this seemingly deadlocked debate, and ask the more basic question: Why the push to legalise euthanasia now, after society has prohibited it for almost two millennia? With a remarkable cast of theologians and ethicists, he explores the cultural currents and conceits, the fears and the unacknowledged beliefs that fuel this debate, and wonders if there are other ways of thinking about the end of life in our time.
Published on BBC News: Health 30 May 2013
The first reported case of a British person choosing to end their own life at a centre in Switzerland because they had dementia has taken place.
The 83-year-old was thought to be in the early stages of the neurodegenerative disease.
A psychiatric assessment found that he was mentally competent to make the decision.
He travelled to the Dignitas facility in Zürich and reportedly made the choice with the support of his family.
Dementia is the gradual loss of brain function leading to loss of memory and the inability for patients to understand what is happening around them. It affects 800,000 people in the UK.
Further details of the case have not been released, but the family did receive guidance over the telephone from Dr Michael Irwin, a retired GP known as Dr Death for his views on assisted suicide.
Dr Irwin said the man was in the early stages of dementia during which time someone’s “mental competence is still fairly normal”.
He told the BBC: “He knew how the dementia was likely to develop and he did not want to suffer that process himself and also he wanted to make certain that his family did not see him suffer.”
This is not definitively the first case of a dementia patient going down this route, but it is the first time the details have come to light.
Dr Irwin said there was a stronger case for assisted suicide in these patients than those with terminal illnesses.
He said: “When you have a chronic debilitating condition like dementia then to me that is a much more serious medical problem, a much greater degree of suffering than someone who has been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness when they’re going to die in a couple of months.”
Dr Peter Saunders, director of Care Not Killing Alliance, said, “This case is hugely alarming and shows that if we were to change the law to allow assisted suicide in this country there would inevitably be further pressure for incremental extension to include dementia patients as is already happening in the Netherlands.
“Vulnerable people would feel constrained to end their lives for fear of being a burden upon loved ones and this pressure would be particularly intensely felt at this time of economic recession when many families are struggling to make ends meet.”
The Alzheimer’s Society said: “No-one with the condition should have to accept a poor quality of life. Instead we need to be driving up standards to ensure everyone can enjoy a good quality of life today.
“And when the time comes, people with dementia deserve a dignified death and good quality end of life care – no less than everyone else.”
This article first appeared on the Deakin University website. Professor Johnstone has been a consistent critic of what she says is the ‘Alzheimerisation’ of the euthanasia debate:
24 May 2013
The way Alzheimer’s disease is portrayed by advocacy groups and the media is having undue influence on the euthanasia debate, according to a Deakin University nursing ethics professor.
Deakin’s Professor Megan-Jane Johnstone has examined the ‘Alzheimerisation’ of the euthanasia debate in a new book – ‘Alzheimer’s disease, media representations and the politics of euthanasia: constructing risk and selling death in an aging society’ – based on her extensive research into the media representations of Alzheimer’s and the shift in public attitudes towards euthanasia.
“Alzheimer’s has been portrayed as the ‘disease of the century’ that is poised to have a near catastrophic impact on the world’s healthcare system as the population ages,” Professor Johnstone said.
“This representation of the disease—along with other often used terms such as ‘living dead’, a ‘funeral that never ends’ and a ‘fate worse than death’—places Alzheimer’s as a soft target in the euthanasia debate because it plays to people’s fears of developing the disease and what it symbolises. It positions Alzheimer’s as something that requires a remedy; that remedy increasingly being pre-emptive and beneficent euthanasia.”
Professor Johnstone acknowledges that euthanasia is a polarising and emotive issue, however she warns that the public could be unduly swayed by the way the media, and pro-euthanasia groups, frame the issue as ‘simply a matter of choice’ and through the use of highly personalised, individual experiences.
“Euthanasia is far from a simple matter of choice, as choice itself is no simple matter; it is an extremely complex phenomenon. And Alzheimer’s disease cannot be adequately portrayed through highly publicised individual cases,” Professor Johnstone explained.
“But this is the messaging coming through the media and influencing the public’s perception of Alzheimer’s disease and euthanasia, and calls into question the credibility of public opinion and opinion polls on which future public policy could be considered.”
Professor Johnstone’s book is not a treatise on the arguments for or against euthanasia and does not take a position either way.
“My hope is that the book will open people’s eyes to the ‘Alzheimerisation’ of the euthanasia debate and encourage them to critically evaluate the messages they are receiving from all sides of the debate,” Professor Johnstone said.
“The proposal to allow euthanasia as a morally warranted option in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is neither simple nor straightforward.
“Anything less than an honest, transparent and accountable debate, which has been lacking to date, would be an assault on the integrity of all—both those for and against the euthanasia proposal—who are trying in their own ways to care for those who are confronting the hard-nosed reality of their inevitable mortality.”
‘Alzheimer’s disease, media representations and the politics of euthanasia: constructing risk and selling death in an aging society’ is published by Ashgate Publishing