The Medical Journal of Australia has just published a commissioned paper on euthanasia and assisted suicide by one of America’s leading bioethicists, Dr Ezekiel Emanuel. Emanuel is not a palaeo-conservative. A brother of Obama’s former chief-of-staff, Rahm Emanuel, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, his liberal credentials are impeccable. However, he regards euthanasia as a “side-show” in the vital discussion of end-of-life care.
Emanuel cites the data from places where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) are legal and notes that premature death by the methods employed are rare. While rarity is a matter of degree and interpretation, it is true to say that the vast majority of people do not seek to access premature death. Emanuel concludes:
“These data mean that the claim that legalising euthanasia and PAS will help solve the problem of poor end-of-life care is erroneous. Euthanasia and PAS do not solve the problem of inadequate symptom management or improving palliative care. These interventions are for the 1% not the 99% of dying patients. We still need to deal with the problem that confronts most dying patients: how to get optimal symptom relief, and how to avoid the hospital and stay at home in the final weeks.
“Legalising euthanasia and PAS is really a sideshow in end-of-life care — championed by the few for the few, extensively covered by the media, but not targeted to improve the care for most dying patients who still suffer.”