Issues Related to Voluntary Assisted Dying – Prof Natasha Michael

CMDFA NSW Conference on Moral Injury

3 MINUTE READ

from Luke’s Journal 2021 | Fire in the Belly 2021 | Vol.26 No.1

Our Christian faith, along with our palliative care tradition, embodies a moral tradition of fundamental convictions about what it means to
die well.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation has posed both professional and practical challenges. It asks if our moral tradition should be reaffirmed, or modified to adapt to the new caregiving realities of legislative and patient demand, along with physician compliance. More importantly, we as a community need to ask if this moral tradition can be modified at all without compromising our fundamental ethic of care. 

This presentation will explore some of the realities faced by practitioners in the current climate. The moral vision of palliative care and medicine articulates that we provide patients with control over the quality of life they can experience in their dying. However, this scope of patient control does not extend to a decision to terminate life by medical assistance, or suicide. We will explore how practitioners experience conflict of conscience in implementing the principle of non-abandonment, whilst still providing ongoing care for those who seek VAD.

“[The VAD legislation] ignores the negative consequences of the moral distress that occurs when healthcare professionals find themselves in situations where they feel they cannot provide what they consider to be excellent care.”

The rights-based approach pursued by legislation neglects the relational nature of conscience, as well as the impact that violating one’s conscience has on the care that one provides. Likewise, the VAD legislation has neglected to recognise and prioritise the relational nature of ethical decision-making in healthcare. It also ignores the negative consequences of the moral distress that occurs when healthcare professionals find themselves in situations where they feel they cannot provide what they consider to be excellent care. 

However, a message of hope remains the antidote to legislation. To engender hope is to hold in front of a person the reality of the love of God for each person, along with His mercy. To know that we are loved fills us with hope, and knowing that we are loved by another is the start of love. Thus, despite our increasing demands to partake in the arena of policy and political debate, our true vocation must remain at the bedside of the patient; to face their laments and hear their pleas, even those for a hastened death.

A video of this talk is available to members of CMDFA. If you are not a member and would like more information please call the CMDFA Office on 02 9680 1233.


Prof Natasha Michael     
Prof Natasha Michael is Director of Palliative Care at Cabrini Health in Melbourne.


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