Steven Amsterdam is a Melbourne-based writer and palliative care nurse. He is the author of Things We Didn’t See Coming, What the Family Needed and The Easy Way Out.
As medical advances have extended first-world life spans by decades, dying has become less of an acute event and, more often, a slow, manageable decline. Comfort measures, no matter how grim the phrase can seem, usually treat the clinical symptoms that come with the body’s deterioration. If untreatable suffering – physical, psychological or spiritual – leads a person to wish for a quicker end, that assistance must come from elsewhere. For now, such help looks like it must be delivered by the health care system, by way of legislation.
Some questions are in order.
Are we a society that enforces prolonged suffering? (See: “You wouldn’t let a dog go on like this.”) Are we a society that will treat the natural end of life with a medicated death? (See: “Birth is uncomfortable and messy too.”)
Do we even need a law to sanction what has been happening...