Doctor slams 'arrogance' on euthanasia

THE views on euthanasia held by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, are ''supremely arrogant'', says a leading Sydney primary care physician.

David Leaf, a Dying with Dignity NSW board member, said mounting evidence that supported legalising euthanasia was being ignored. He said assisted dying programs worked, with no evidence of heightened risk for groups considered vulnerable to euthanasia, including the elderly, uninsured, poor, physically disabled and mentally ill.

Mr O'Farrell has described himself as ''strongly opposed'' to euthanasia, while last year Ms Gillard said she was concerned it would ''open the door to exploitation and perhaps callousness towards people in the end stage of life''. Ms Gillard added there were no appropriate safeguards to protect vulnerable people from using euthanasia as an ''out''.

''For Julia to pretend not to know of eight separate jurisdictions around the world where voluntary euthanasia is working is wilfully ignorant,'' said Dr Leaf, a primary care lecturer at the University of NSW.

''Numerous independent audits of existing euthanasia laws from several jurisdictions have shown them to be safe.''

Dr Leaf said politicians were either not up to date with evidence, or ignoring it.

''Safe laws are already working well in Oregon, the Netherlands, Belgium, Washington State, Switzerland, Montana, and Luxembourg,'' he said.

''In Oregon in the US, those choosing euthanasia are white, well off and well educated, and that is the same as in Belgium and Holland.''

However, a professor of law at the Australian Catholic University's public policy institute, Father Frank Brennan, who visited Oregon and interviewed doctors and clinicians about physician assisted suicides, said physicians were concerned the law impacted the doctor-patient relationship as well as relationships between doctors, as the American Medical Association considers physician-assisted suicide as unethical.

''I met with doctors who have strong ethical objections to their colleagues prescribing deadly medications,'' Father Brennan wrote in the online Jesuit publication, Eureka Street.

''You don't have to be Catholic to think that doctors should do no harm, that patients are free to forego futile or burdensome treatment, and that palliative care be utilised to relieve pain.''

But Dr Leaf criticised Father Brennan and ''other Catholic lobbyists'', for using emotive terms like ''legal killing'', ''suicide'', ''death by doctor'', and ''lethal injection'' in their input into the debate. ''I'm not anti-Catholic, but I'm anti-bullshit,'' Dr Leaf said.

''Euthanasia is voluntary for both the patient and their doctor. There are doctors who don't do abortions and in the same way doctors can choose not to assist people to die.''

But a paper that was submitted last year to the Canadian medical journal Current Oncology said that assisted dying programs were flawed as well as under-funded.

Researchers said in the Netherlands, euthanasia for anyone over the age of 70 and ''tired of living'' was being considered.

''Legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide therefore places many people at risk, affects the values of society over time, and does not provide controls and safeguards,'' the authors of the report wrote.

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