It was an episode that examined – in some small way – the experience of a terminally ill patient as a host of professionals discussed how they should die.
And a panel of expert clinicians, advocates, and Andrew Denton dissected the many and varied fears of Australians, terrified of living too long in pain, or not being allowed to live long enough under proposed changes to end-of-life and euthanasia legislation.
“I don’t see any ethical reason whatsoever we should be saying ‘No, you keep living for a bit longer’. It is your choice,” McConaghy said.
This episode demonstrated yet again that Q&A is at its best when there are no politicians on the panel. This was an outstanding panel: Andrew Denton, palliative care specialist Dr Ralph McConaghy, Dr Karen Hitchcock, author and clinician at the Alfred Hospital, Dr Rodney Syme, a urological surgeon and former president of end-of-life advocacy group Dying With Dignity Victoria and Ana Lamaro who retired in 2013, two years after her diagnosis with breast cancer.
Denton has been researching euthanasia in Europe, America and Australia for the last year and was at his calmest and most rational in discussing this highly emotionally charged topic. One can only hope that it will be a place for him at the ABC bringing his sharp intellect to bear on important questions.
But the two real stars of the show were Dr Ralph McConaghy who was also Director of the Wesley Palliative Care Service and Dr Rodney Syme.
McConaghy radiates compassion and like Syme has been at the pointy end of palliative care for most is career. He is a calm and rational man like Denton, and his professional life has clearly had a profound impact on him. If you wanted someone in charge of your medical care as you are dying, this is the man you choose.
Syme has also been at the pointy end but is a far more passionate, and dare I say, angry, man than McConaghy. Syme makes no secret of the fact that he administers Nembutal to relieve end-of-life suffering. He wants to challenge the law and see a change and is prepared to risk his professional reputation and practice to do so. His efforts to have himself brought before the courts have so far been unsuccessful
McConaghy is a far more circumspect man. He uses a technique called palliative sedation which is when a person is given medication to make them unconscious and, therefore, unaware of pain. This mix of meditation includes Nembutal. Palliative sedation is not intended to end a person’s life, But one side effect is a fairly substantial shortening of their lifespan. He must be a wonderful support for families who are struggling with the painful death of a loved one.
So congratulations to the Q&A team. This was a serious and respectful exploration of the topic that many people find difficult to talk about but one that needs kind of treatment it received on Q&A last night