Do Australians support euthanasia?

The other day I came across this Youtube clip showing Mark Dice, and American who describes himself as “a media analyst, political activist, and author”. Dice sets up a candid camera and tries to get a passersby to sign a fake petition calling for mandatory euthanasia for the elderly. The video is clearly edited for comic effect: it for the most part only shows those who believed and signed the fake petition…

I wouldn’t want to place too much importance on a practical joke conducted in America but in watching it became pretty obvious to me that many clearly did not know what they were signing. Surely the phrase “mandatory euthanasia program” should have sent alarm bells ringing? At one point Dice even suggested that the program would reduce traffic congestion. However it became clear from the responses that many individuals did not understand what the petition was really advocating.

Closer to home, and on a more serious vein, Euthanasia advocates claim that as many as 85% of Australians support voluntary euthanasia, a statistic I find difficult to believe. Studies from the Australian Department of Health and Ageing suggest that most Australians do not have a clear understanding of what palliative care is and there is widespread confusion among Australians about the difference between palliative care and euthanasia. Only 1% of Australians surveyed in the study were initially able to identify palliative care as a health issue without being prompted. 20% did not even have a basic understanding of what palliative care was. [1]

Statistics like this make one wonder how much people know or understand about euthanasia and end of life treatment. Oughtn’t we focus on clearing up the misunderstandings before trying to push through legislation? I would like to see an in depth study about public opinion on euthanasia which clearly identifies the differences between what is currently available and legal and what would be proposed by a voluntary euthanasia program.

Before we even begin to consider legalizing voluntary euthanasia we need to ensure there is adequate public understanding both about palliative care options already available and about what distinguishes euthanasia from palliative care.

 


[1] Community Attitudes Towards Palliative Care 2006, Department of Health and Ageing http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-palliative-attitudes-doc06

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