February 28, 2024

Doctors association refuses to back euthanasia in Australia

But insists that have they have “an ethical duty to care for dying patients so that death is allowed to occur in comfort and with dignity”.

AMA President Michael Gannon  

After surveying its members the Australian Medical Association has reaffirmed its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. “Doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life,” says the latest version of its end-of-life care policy.

But doctors do “have an ethical duty to care for dying patients so that death is allowed to occur in comfort and with dignity”.

The statement comes at a time when some state legislatures are debating euthanasia. A bill failed earlier this month in South Australia but supporters are pushing for bills in Victoria and Tasmania.

Euthanasia campaigners detected a shift in the AMA’s stance. Dr Rodney Syme, a urologist who says that he has helped about 100 patients to die, said that the AMA’s position that “laws in relation to euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are ultimately a matter for society and government” verged on neutrality rather than opposition.

But the AMA also demands that both patients and doctors need to be protected if euthanasia becomes legal – patients against abuse and doctors against coercion.

AMA President, Michael Gannon, said that 50% of the 4000 doctors who responded to the survey said doctors should not be involved in euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, 38% said they should be and 12% neither agreed or disagreed. Most respondents did not want to provide a euthanasia service themselves, although they agreed that giving lethal injections was a job for doctors.

Against the background of the failure of pollsters to capture the views of voters in the recent US presidential election, it is hard to tell whether this survey reflects the views of Australian doctors. There are 103,000 doctors in Australia; only 30,000 of them belong to the AMA; and only 4,000 responded to the survey.

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