I have always found striking the discrepancy between the public support for euthanasia (among those who are healthy) and my patients’ desire for continued life. I was informed of a recent poll which claimed that 87 per cent of Australians support legalisation of euthanasia.
Research done on palliative care populations, however, tells a different story. A study done some years ago in Sydney found that less than one per cent of those referred to a palliative care service made persistent requests for euthanasia.
My own observation is that things haven’t changed much since then. Why the disparity?
I think there are many reasons why this is the case. The absence of death in everyday life no doubt contributes - it is a remote event often occurring in hospitals, and many of us base our understanding of what really happens on hearsay. And hearsay, especially from the distant past, has some horrifying stories to tell.
Yet I think the main reason why our community voices such strong support for euthanasia is because it has been confused about some accepted end-of-life practices which are already legal, but poorly understood. These include withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment and symptom control.
Another palliative care doctor featured on Australian ABC TV's Four Corners program on Monday night said something similar