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BCNA News 11 Oct 2017

BCNA’s 2017 Member Survey finds Australians with breast cancer are in favour of assisted dying

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women and kills over 3,000 women nationally each year.

While survival rates have greatly improved over recent decades as a result of investments into medical research, unfortunately around nine women in Australia are still dying of breast cancer each day.

It’s not cancer in the breast that kills women; it is when it spreads to vital organs such as the liver, lungs or brain that it becomes deadly. Although metastatic breast cancer is generally deemed incurable and will eventually result in death, it is treatable and for some people can be controlled for many years.

Women and men living with metastatic breast cancer deserve the very best treatment, care, support and consideration from the Australian community as they go through the day-to-day challenges of living with an incurable illness that requires lifelong treatment.

Currently this issue is on the agenda of New South Wales and Victorian governments. The New South Wales parliament is considering a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill with cross party support. The Victorian Government tabled the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 in Parliament on 20 September this year. The draft legislation is modelled on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Professor Brian Owler and is billed as the most conservative in the world. The Bill proposes that Victorians could access lethal medication within 10 days of asking to die, following a three-step request process involving two independent medical assessments. People must be over the age of 18, of sound mind, expected to die within 12 months and suffering in a way that 'cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable'.

This week, Victorian members of Parliament are debating the Bill. This will undoubtedly include passionate discussions as opposing arguments are put forward. Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) acknowledges the importance of this debate and respects the rights of individuals and organisations to hold different views on voluntary assisted dying. Our organisation will not be taking a position on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. However as the peak national body representing Australians affected by breast cancer we are committed to ensuring the voice of our members is heard within this important debate.  

This year we conducted research with over 10, 300 Australians who are living with, or survivors of, breast cancer.  Among many matters, we asked whether voluntary assisted euthanasia should be made legal in Australia for people who are near the end of their life and suffering. Our results support the findings from range of public opinion polls that show the majority of the Australian population believe people should have access to assisted dying.

Of the 9,351 survey participants who had an opinion on assisted dying, 83 per cent supported the legalisation.  The proportion was even higher amongst the 491 people living with metastatic breast cancer, rising to 86 per cent. The group with the highest proportion of support were those people diagnosed within one to two years (91 per cent).

Assisted dying is by no means a replacement for palliative care. People who are in the end stages of their life need our compassion and support to live well for as long as possible and to experience the best possible death.

BCNA strongly advocates for improved access to palliative care services noting that this requires an injection of new funding from all Australian governments.  We want to ensure everyone who needs specialist palliative care services can access them when they need them.

BCNA hopes that this week’s debate in Victoria raises the spotlight on the end-of-life debate, which ultimately is going to impact on all of us. We wish our political leaders well and hope that discussions lead to outcomes that enable people with terminal illnesses to experience deaths that are as free as possible from pain and suffering.