The Victorian Government is currently conducting a public consultation to improve palliative care service improvements and assist the development of an end of life care framework. The Australian Christian Lobby was able to contribute to the discussion by making a submission.

ACL’s submission highlighted the importance of ensuring good health practice is carried out in palliative care. People requiring medical treatment and care who are approaching the end of their life are often some of the most vulnerable members of society. It is essential that those nearing the end of their life are treated in a way that is consistent with the dignity of their humanity. This means that public health policy must always reject any health care solutions that seek to intentionally end a patient’s life, even when desired by the patient.

Good public health policy should also ensure that healthcare professionals are given the flexibility to provide good and sound medical care in accordance with their conscience, informed by their oath to “do no harm”.  The compassionate response to suffering is to recognise a person’s inherent dignity regardless of their physical capacity or their mental abilities or health, and to strive to provide the best possible care for those with disabilities or at the end of their lives.

Advance Care Directives have been the subject of increased attention in Victoria and were discussed in ACL’s submission. In principle, ACL welcomes increased support for patients to plan their end of life medical treatment and care through advanced care planning, however ACL has particular concerns with moves towards making Advanced Care Directives legislatively binding on health care professionals.

ACL argued that whilst directives alone can guide decision making they aren’t always enough in complex medical scenarios to ensure that an individual’s choices are respected. There is a need for a holistic approach to advanced care planning. ACL is concerned by the publicly stated plans of the Labor Government in Victoria to make Advanced Care Directives legislatively binding.[1] ACL opposes this approach. One risk of making directives legally binding flows from the potential for some requests in advance directives to be in fact suicidal. This might occur if a directive refused everything, including food and water that would keep the patient alive. To cease providing nutrition and hydration that is neither futile, nor unduly burdensome, with the intention of shortening a patient’s life, would be euthanasia.

ACL was grateful for the opportunity to take part in the public consultation and will continue to defend life and dignity of the elderly and dying wherever it can.

There are still a few days left to have your say into the inquiry, have your say here.

Submissions are due by close of business Friday, 18th December 2015

[1] Farrah Tomazin, ‘Victorians to get a greater say in dying with dignity under Labor reforms’, The Age (Melbourne), 16 November 2014, <http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/state-election-2010/victorians-to-get-a-greater-say-in-dying-with-dignity-under-labor-reforms-20141115-11nelp.html>, and Victorian Labor Platform 2014 <http://www.viclabor.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Victorian-Labor-Platform-2014.pdf> page 38-39.