GP for as­sisted dy­ing

Ter­mi­nally ill doc­tor backs di­vi­sive Bill

Geelong Advertiser - - NEWS - JEMMA RYAN

AN award-win­ning Gee­long doc­tor fac­ing his own ter­mi­nal can­cer di­ag­no­sis has called for con­tro­ver­sial as­sisted dy­ing laws to be passed.

Dr Ric Mil­ner, who was re­cently named Vic­to­ria’s GP of the Year by the Royal Aus­tralian Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers, ex­pressed his views on the Vol­un­tary As­sisted Dy­ing Bill as de­bate re­sumed yes­ter­day in the Up­per House of Par­lia­ment.

The 63-year-old GP held the op­po­site view 30 years ago when he felt the com­mu­nity wasn’t ready for the dis­cus­sion, but said his stance changed dra­mat­i­cally a decade ago, well be­fore his own di­ag­no­sis.

“It is em­bar­rass­ing for me to look back at how I thought 30 years ago in terms of medicine. In­di­vid­ual choice is para­mount,” Dr Mil­ner said.

Asked if he would con­sider mak­ing use of such laws him­self, Dr Mil­ner said he’d like the op­tion.

“I hope I have a more gen­tle exit but I wouldn’t mind hav­ing it there as a safety net,” he said.

Op­po­nents to the law fear in­di­vid­u­als may be per­suaded to take the med­i­ca­tion by fam­ily or friends but the You Yangs Med­i­cal Clinic doc­tor said he has ob­served the op­po­site to be true.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence is pa­tients are co­erced by their fam­ily to have treat­ment that they would not usu­ally want,” he said.

“In cases where a pa­tient re­ceives a very bad can­cer di­ag­no­sis, where chances of treat­ment help­ing them is min­i­mal, fam­ily will of­ten say give it a go.

“In my whole life, I have never seen the op­po­site. I have never seen a fam­ily (try to con­vince) a loved one to end their life.”

Dr Mil­ner said the legis- la­tion needed to be one part of a big­ger look at pal­lia­tive care and our ap­proach to se­ri­ous and ter­mi­nal ill­nesses, in­clud­ing the pro­mo­tion of ad­vanced care plans.

“If you have ac­cess to as­sisted dy­ing pro­cesses then you can bring it up with med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers and ex­plore, to­gether, why you might be in­ter­ested in that,” he said.

“In some cases they may be able to put bet­ter pal­lia­tive care pro­cesses in place (that don’t in­volve as­sisted dy­ing).

“Of course there are a small por­tion of peo­ple who will still ac­cess it ... but we’re talk­ing about 200 peo­ple in all of Vic­to­ria per year.”

Ob­jec­tors also sug­gest it could be the be­gin­ning of a slip­pery slope that would see the laws even­tu­ally ex­panded to in­clude youth, dis­abil­ity or men­tal ill­ness as a basis for el­i­gi­bil­ity.

“World ex­pe­ri­ence says that is not true,” Dr Mil­ner said.

“The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion is very, very strict and I can’t see that there would be any like­li­hood of it be­ing loos­ened up.”

Dr Mil­ner, who still works at the You Yangs Med­i­cal Clinic, is on an ex­tended leave of ab­sence while he un­der­goes chemo­ther­apy.

Pic­ture: ALAN BARBER

Dr Ric Mil­ner, who has ter­mi­nal can­cer, is call­ing for as­sisted dy­ing laws to be passed in Vic­to­ria.

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