National Palliative Care Week is a good time to start thinking about death …
So, I went to Queensland Palliative Care’s Your Death, Your Choice community forum last weekend and, to tell the truth, for the first half of the morning I was a bit ‘pissed’ that the speakers all seemed to be skirting around the subject of voluntary euthanasia. That’s what I’d come to hear people talk about!
During the lunch break I had a friendly, but fairly intense chat with Dr Mark Deuble. As our conversation progressed, I could tell he was incredibly irritated that I wanted to focus on VE, when he wanted to focus on the immediate, pressing needs of the palliative care sector.
To be honest, I was like some really annoying mosquito prattling on about what I saw as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING while he was trying to explain why (at least to him) it wasn’t.
I don’t think I made a very good impression. I’m sure the words, “What an incredibly annoying woman!” were muttered under his breath as I went back to my seat.
I told him I’d be writing an article on the forum. I imagine him thinking, “God, help us!”
Well, I may be annoying, but I’m not stupid or intractable.
During the afternoon session and long into the night I thought very carefully about Dr Deuble’s argument.
I can’t say I agree that VE shouldn’t be an issue until we’ve addressed the parlous state of palliative care in this country; but I can see his point. My argument would be that in those countries and jurisdictions where VE has been legalized, it helped shine a spotlight on palliative care and forced governments to pay far more attention to it than they had in the past. VE is good for palliative care.
But, I’ve already had my rant about euthanasia this week. So, when I sat down to write a less ranty article about palliative care and the Your Death, Your Choice forum, Dr Deuble was very much on my mind.
We may disagree on VE, but what absolutely shone through was that he was a caring and dedicated physician with an absolute burning passion to advocate for better end-of-life care for his patients. Dr Deuble spoke eloquently and from the heart and he made me take a broader view of the whole VE debate.
Don’t worry! I haven’t gone soft on VE. But it’s as if I’d been focused on Sydney and someone took me up in a plane and showed me New South Wales. After I got over the fact that Dr Deuble didn’t agree with every single word I uttered, I kind of went, “Wow! I’ve actually never looked at it from that perspective!” I thank him for that.
What Dr Deuble and the folks at Palliative Care Queensland need (and I, suspect, Palliative Care advocacy groups in other states as well) is public support. They need us to contact our state pollies and say, “What are YOU doing to improve palliative care in this state?”
My article on the Your Death, Your Choice forum was published on ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal today. I really hope Dr Deuble will like it and maybe think of me as somewhat less annoying.
I’ve sent a copy of my article to my local state member today and I’ve made an appointment to talk to him about it (and a few other things that are making me ranty) on Monday.
So, let me ask you a favour. Read my article, and if you think Dr Deuble and I have made a fair case, think about forwarding the link to your local state member and asking what they’re doing to fix the problem.
It is my absolute pleasure, Temy! Hugs!
I very much appreciated the article, thank-you.
You are right Chrys for thinking we need access to voluntary euthanasia even before we reach the stage of utopian palliative care for everyone. That dream is decades away (althought we should push our governments to expand existing PC services) in the meantime too many Australians are dying badly and simply want to option to end their life with dignity when the suffering becomes unbearable.
Even palliative care experts agree PC does not and cannot meet the needs of every dying person. Just as we all have the right to refuse medical treatment, even that which may extend our lives, some terminally ill patients choose to bypass the offer of palliative care. Their preference being to retain complete control over the timing and manner of their death.
Rant posted on the other site 🙂
I forgot to copy so I could past it here too 😦
Hi Chrys, thank you for being one of the few journalists to focus on the issues affecting the palliative care sector, the issues being; lack of awareness of death and dying as a mainstream issue in the community, failure of past governments to see the care of the dying as important enough issues to warrant attention, lack of a statewide plan to provide end of life care and of course lack of appropriate funding and resourcing to the palliative care sector.
Palliative care clinicians are well aware that they cannot meet the needs of all dying patients, but with sufficient resourcing, it is not absurd or utopia to suggest that every Queenslander (if they want it) can get easy access to specialist palliative care when and where they need it. Imagine how much more effective our drugs and treatments in palliative care could be, and imagine how much better palliative care clinicians could get at managing the symptoms of dying people if they had the budgets of other areas in the healthcare sector like transplant medicine, emergency medicine, heamatology and even oncology.
We can’t continue to expect to meet the needs of our dying population with a budget that is miniscule, to expect us to do so is just lunacy. I encourage all people to look at the figures for themselves by clicking on the link below to a document that spells out how much is spent on palliative care in Qld each year. You will be frightened. You may also notice that the document is several years old now? This is for two reasons, firstly the budget provided did not change (despite growth of up to 25% per year in referrals to palliative care), and secondly because the previous government did not see that it as a priority (a reflection of the previous government’s attitude towards the care of the dying). This is still a working document however, and as such was presented at COAG in 2010. Believe me, we are not lying here, palliative care is the ‘lamington drive’ of the health community and only an angry community has the power to make a difference.
Click to access QLD.pdf