More than 40 per cent of Australians would “take the option of euthanasia if available” if they were terminally ill with just weeks to live, a poll has indicated.
The research, commissioned by Alzheimer’s Australia (AA), also suggests strong support for the permitted, though legally fraught, option of refusing treatment “even if this means they would die sooner”.
“Clearly, many Australians are interested in having choice at the end of life,” said AA chief executive Glenn Rees.
“Many Australians obviously want more choice in terms of advanced directives and making decisions about where they die, whether they want to have antibiotics, whether they want to be force fed, whether they want to be hydrated, within the current law.
“That’s one set of options people have … but there are also many people obviously interested in thinking about options like euthanasia.”
The online poll involved 2505 Australians and was undertaken in October last year.
While it focused on dementia, respondents were asked what they would want if they were terminally ill with only a few weeks to live.
More than half (54 per cent) said they would want to write “advance care directives” while still mentally competent that would “determine the care options that were best suited to them” into the future.
Almost the same number (53 per cent) said these directives should be able to include an option to “refuse all treatment even if this meant they would die sooner”, while 42 per cent would “take the option of euthanasia if available”.
Euthanasia is not legal in any state or territory.
Mr Rees said there was also variance across the country in laws outlining advance directive and powers of attorney rights.
“We firmly believe that Australians want to be better informed on this subject but as an organisation we don’t have a view one way or the other on euthanasia,” Mr Rees also said.
“The bottom line though is we feel that consumers ought to be more involved and should be leading this debate.
He said AA would release a discussion paper on euthanasia ahead of the organisation’s annual conference, in Brisbane from May 17-20, where the issue would also be debated.
Among those polled, dementia was only second to cancer in terms of the diseases Australians feared in old age, (63 per cent compared to 66 per cent).
More than half (56 per cent) did not know there were medications available to help those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, while around the same number did not know there were ways to reduce a person’s lifetime risk.
There’s plenty of evidence that if you do look after your heart and you are mentally active then you can do something to reduce your risk of dementia,” Mr Rees said.
Keep your cholesterol down, keep your blood pressure down, exercise, eat well, eat oily fish and things of that kind, and combine that with mental and social activity.
… the most important things are those which are good for your heart,” he said.