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Controversy on end-of-life

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August 03, 2017

Jaclyn Symes

New kid on the block: Fr Eugene Ashkar and his spoodle Fonzie are new additions to St. Marys Parish Seymour

A parliamentary committee report into the future of assisted dying has re-ignited debate both for and against an end-of-life legislation in Victoria.

Everyone hopes for a good death, but is dying deliberately through the means of a lethal dose of medication the right answer?

St Mary’s Catholic Church, Seymour parish priest Father Eugene Ashkar said the proposed bill sends the wrong message to people who are in pain or suffering.

‘‘It’s saying to the people who are at this point: you’re a wallet, you can’t buy anything, you’re just a drain on our finances — you’re not a productive unit any more,’’ Fr Ashkar said.

‘‘It says, you don’t have any worth because you’re not producing anything.’’

Fr Ashkar, echoing the beliefs of the church, said there was dignity and value to be found in life, even in the most trying of situations.

The modern concept of euthanasia comes from the Greek word, which means ‘a good death’.

University of Melbourne lecturer Dr Caitlin Mahar has researched how our view of death and pain has changed in western society and influenced the push to legalise euthanasia.

‘‘The idea that pain and being in pain is undignified is very modern,’’ Dr Mahar said.

‘‘Today, we are seeing palliative doctors controlling pain at the end of life to an extent that was once unimaginable and yet we are more anxious about the pain of dying than ever before.’’

The proposed bill, released to the public last month, recommended an assisted dying approach over the typical euthanasia, whereby a doctor would prescribe their patient medication after a rigorous eligibility testing process.

A doctor-administered euthanasia process would only be available to people who were of sound mind but were unable to administer the medication themselves.

It can only be done in the presence of witnesses and after a two-doctor approval process.

Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes sat on the cross-party parliamentary committee that oversaw the report into end-of-life choices.

‘‘Some of the really compelling evidence I was privy to during the inquiry was that of the state coroner and the reality of really sad and tragic situations happening regularly in our state,’’ Ms Symes told The Riverine Herald.

‘‘These are cases where desperately ill and terminally ill people are forced to take measures into their own hands in the saddest of cases and ... forced to take really violent measures to try and end their pain.

‘‘That was probably the most distressing evidence we got — the prevalence of really sad situations of people taking their own life.

‘‘I just feel that’s completely wrong in this day and age; that people are forced into that situation.’’

The results of the committee’s findings have led to 66 recommendations which the government will take on board before debating a proposed assisted dying bill in parliament later this year.

Assisted dying is not legal in any state or territory in Australia, although it was briefly legalised in the Northern Territory in 1995 before the Commonwealth Government stepped in and eroded those laws.

The Victorian parliamentary report found that doctors and families in Victoria were assisting their loved ones in ending their life. They also found that police and the courts were not necessarily pursuing charges against these people for doing so.

According to the church, there is no crime in refusing to seek treatment but we begin playing God among ourselves if we choose when and where our life span will end.

‘‘Assisted dying is suicide, it is essentially giving people the means to kill themselves, and euthanasia is actually doing the killing,’’ Fr Ashkar said.

‘‘Where is this human dignity in that?’’

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