WA News Guest Opinion / Editorial The Right to Choose
The Right to Choose
Written by Dr Rob McEvoy
Friday, 31 March 2017

201704-Dr-Alida-Lancee-meetingDr Alida Lancee at her election campaign launch.She got only 8% of Colin Barnett’s primary vote in the seat of Cottesloe, and some say this excursion into politics was amateurish, but Dr Alida Lancee’s campaign has added to the disillusionment around politics and politicians. She says they are out of touch with 80% of their electorate on one issue she champions. This Perth GP is under murder investigation for helping someone end their life. She says patients have the right to choose their end and doctors should have the right to be involved, with safeguards built in to protect everyone as best as possible.

Rather than going to ground and protect her interests she decided to take on the powers that be. Why? We attended her Freedom of Choice campaign launch at the Cottesloe Civic Centre and she came across as a caring doctor keen to relieve the suffering of some of her patients, and was gobsmacked that politicians and other doctors seemed unwilling to act on their instincts.

She had no axe to grind or scalps to take. She had a clear message that people should be allowed and perhaps be assisted to die with dignity, and the doctor’s role was to relieve suffering when palliative care was caught short. People within the mainly elderly audience confirmed what she was saying with their harrowing stories.

She was supported by Dr Rodney Syme, a Victorian urologist who reportedly won a Medical Board challenge after openly admitting to helping over 100 patients in dying; Emeritus Prof Max Kamien, who said the profession needed to get up-to-date; and former President of Palliative Care WA and CEO of Cancer Council WA Mr Clive Deverall, who, at one of his last public events before his death on March 11, told us privately that palliative care might have lost its way and that terminal sedation did not meet all needs.

This is now a public fight. On their website www.freedomofchoicewa.com is the position of elected representatives, politicians. We all know nothing is simple and we should attempt to stop exploitation. But the time for straight talking is here. I attended a meeting of the Kingsley candidates before the election and heard all but the Greens and Labor candidates dance around my ‘safe’ question. It gave insights into the electoral process (and I feel for the sitting Liberal MLA who lost her seat with a 15% swing).

If over 1300 people in Cottesloe voted for end-of-life law reform, ahead of everything else, then where does the profession stand? No doubt there will be craft and rural-urban splits within the medical profession.

“I plan to ensure that our mortality becomes a subject we can talk about and plan for in the way that we choose for ourselves. The Cottesloe campaign was intended as a platform for voter awareness as well as for all candidates that a Bill is on the agenda.” Alida said.

During the campaign Alida proposed shaping the 75-year-old health assessments to include advanced care planning, the wearing of Medic-alert bracelets to warn of an Advanced Health Directive (AHD) and perhaps a web-based repository of AHDs.

The RACGP is in favour of advanced care planning but the profession may not be the ones to lead this debate. It is perhaps too conservative, too slow to act, and too influenced by lobby groups. Health consumers want their values, beliefs and life goals carried out during end-of-life care, including the 25% who will be too out of it to make or communicate a decision.