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12 Dec 2016

CAPTION: AMA President Dr Michael Gannon discusses the AMA's policy on euthanasia and assisted dying on ABC radio at Parliament House 

Doctors have called for far greater investment in end of life care and the establishment of nationally consistent palliative care services amid a concerted push from some for the legalisation of euthanasia.

As the Victorian Government considers its response to a parliamentary report calling for the legalisation of assisted dying, the AMA has reiterated its view that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary purpose the ending of a person’s life.

Instead, in its updated Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide 2016, the peak medical organisation said governments must do all they can to improve end of life care by providing proper resources for palliative care services and advance care planning and developing clear legislative protection for doctors providing good end of life care.

“Doctors should not involve themselves in treatments that have as the primary intention the ending of a patient’s life,” AMA President Dr Michael Gannon told the ABC. “But…if delivering treatments like sedatives to a dying patient has the secondary effect of hastening their death, that’s not euthanasia.”

Dr Gannon said that discontinuing treatments that were of no medical benefit to a dying patient also did not constitute euthanasia.

The AMA developed its latest Position Statement following an exhaustive year-long process that included a survey of members and consultations with State and Territory AMAs, and which took into account the policies of major national and international medical organisations, community attitudes and euthanasia and physician assisted laws in other countries.

The AMA member survey, which had around 4000 responses, found that 50 per cent of doctors agreed that doctors should not be involved in euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, while 38 per cent thought they should, and 12 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Dr Gannon said the survey results showed that “a majority of doctors did not want the AMA to change its view, and they don’t see a role for doctors in euthanasia”.

But he admitted that the survey showed there was a divergence of views among doctors, just as there was in the broader community.

There has been a renewed push for the legalisation of euthanasia in recent months, and television presenter Andrew Denton has taken a lead role in advocating for change.

But the movement suffered a setback last month when the South Australian Parliament narrowly voted down laws to allow voluntary euthanasia. The final vote was 24-23.

Earlier this year, a cross party parliamentary committee in Victoria recommended laws to allow “adults with decision-making capacity, suffering from a serious and incurable condition who are at the end of life to be provided assistance to die in certain circumstances”. The Victorian Government is considering its response.

Dr Gannon said that, ultimately, laws regarding euthanasia were a matter for governments and society.

But the AMA would act to make sure doctors and other health professionals were appropriately protected if euthanasia was legalised.

“If governments change laws then we will make sure that there is every possible protection written for not only the vulnerable in our community, but those doctors, those nurses, those other professionals, who don’t see this as a part of health care, and would not wish to involve themselves,” the AMA President said.

“We’re keen to see laws that preserve the fundamental importance of the relationship between patients and doctors and give protections to those that might be threatened by some bad laws that we’ve seen proposed in this area.”

Dr Gannon said the survey results showed that AMA members thought that if euthanasia was legalised to be part of medical care, doctors should be involved – but most would not want to be involved themselves.

“A majority of doctors acknowledge that if society changes laws, that those treatments should be provided by doctors. But they made the very clear point that a majority would not want to deliver those treatments themselves,” he said.

The AMA Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide 2016, which is consistent with the Declaration of Geneva and the World Medical Association, is available at:

Adrian Rollins

Published: 12 Dec 2016