The conversation we all need to have

14 September 2010

Written by: Meghan Lodwick

He sits up, rips out his oxygen tubing, tears the monitor leads from his chest and pulls out his IV drip. The old man has dispensed with his ‘life support’ and between weak, shallow breaths, gasps: ‘Every year the elderly cost this country millions on health care and welfare. We have to make tough decisions.’

A man in blue pyjamas is the star of a fictitious advertisement for the mandatory euthanasia ad for over 80s. The ad was recently, screened on the ABC’s Gruen Transfer where the country’s top advertisement agencies are challenged to produce an ad that is ‘unsellable’. The idea behind the advertisement did sell, though, sparking off a pro-euthanasia ad campaign scheduled to appear on Australian television this week.

However, last Friday CAD (Commercials Advice), the organisation responsible for classification, withdrew its earlier approval for the advertisement, saying that it did not meet the requirements of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. Euthanasia campaigner and director of Exit International, Dr Philip Nitschke, is now seeking the advice of the Council of Civil Liberties in an attempt to have the decision reversed.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Nitschke said:

‘This is an attempt to stifle the debate about this vexed issue. It shows a person saying I didn’t choose to be terminally ill, all I want is choice and it says 85 per cent of Australians want this choice, why isn’t the government listening?’

The pro-voluntary euthanasia organisation, Exit International, recently received a considerable donation to fund the 45 second television advertisement that it hoped would bring about a public debate on the issue of euthanasia.

I agree we need a conversation about Voluntary Euthanasia but this is just one aspect of a fuller debate over ageing and dying that we need to engage in. Here in Australia, our lives are longer now- mostly a result of medical technology that gives us clean vessels in the place of clogged arteries, cancer drugs that keep us in remission, and life saving treatments for previously fatal strokes. But are these extra years of life worth the trouble or are they spent in nursing homes just waiting and wanting to die?

Our society suffers from death denial — a denial of the fact that we will all someday die — and Exit International’s  Gruen Transfer – inspired ad campaign could be just  what society needs to get the conversation started.

What are your thoughts on the ‘end of life’ and the debate about voluntary euthanasia process? Do you even think about it at all?  Let us know your thoughts on this sensitive topic below or by posting a comment at Helen’s blog , ‘A good death’.

Helen Lobato is undertaking a Bachelor of Media Studies at La Trobe and, in the past, has worked as critical care nurse. Helen has started a blog called ‘A good death’ to encourage people to talk about how they’ll prepare for their unavoidable ‘end of life’. Helen writes that until the 1950s people died in their own surroundings comforted by family and friends. These days most of us will die in hospitals and nursing homes. Helen’s blog considers this huge cultural shift in dying practices and the concept of ‘a good death’ (if there is such a thing).