The issue of whether long time care and life support for terminal patients is tantamount to torture or not is a delicate, complicated and as yet unresolved question in medicine.
Yet one cannot feel that former Senator Amanda Vanstone’s (Immigration Minister during the Howard years) suggestion that elderly and/or terminal patients seek advanced medical directives to cease treatment because of the savings that could be made and reinvested into the health sector are misguided and a tricksy form of support for Abbott’s health cuts.
In her column, she poses the question: “irrespective of your age, what [do] you think is reasonable to expect as free medication that would keep you going in a reasonable condition if you had a terminal diagnosis?” Her point is that people who want free access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical care a year should just “face the inevitable”, do us all a favour and die. As her article ostensibly focuses on the elderly and cites financial figures that would make most people wince: especially those whose only exposure to the cost of healthcare is rising private health insurance premiums and memes about ridiculously overpriced American medical care.
What Vanstone has failed to mention is that there are many Australians who suffer long-term, debilitating, life-threatening and/or terminal illnesses who are not elderly and that while the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and private health insurance (for those who have good coverage) can go a long way the cost of healthcare in Australian can be crippling in itself. The issue of how much funding a person should receive for medical care should not centre around whether it is a fruitful investment. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that every person, regardless of age, illness, sexuality or race should have adequate and appropriate access to medical care.
This is a sly development in the continuing efforts to dismantle public and affordable healthcare in Australia and to destroy the living conditions that have been fought for over the last 150 years. Shortly before Vanstone urged the elderly and infirm to hurry up and die (quoting one “senior medical professional” who argues that all Australians over the age of 73 should have an Advanced Medical Directive or else lose access to Medicare entirely), an Abbott government Minister excused the raising of the pension age to 70 by saying that workers are now living too long and that having a retirement age that permits workers to actually retire (as opposed to dying at work or having to retire due to disability or impairment) is contrary to the intent of the original pension scheme. Together, Vanstone and the other MP want to create a situation where workers will have to work until well into old age and then be forced to sign a death warrant to retain access to public healthcare. This is if they can even afford access to public healthcare, with moves to introduce co-payments for GP visits and even emergency care to curb a non-existent but apparently potent moral threat from healthcare abusers.
Medical care for terminal and long-term illness sufferers can be debilitating, disturbing and at times even torturous. The medical community needs to find a more compassionate and caring solution to this problem and accept that euthanasia or the withholding of care from those patients for whom it will cause extra suffering should be considered. But this problem is not a window of opportunity for capitalists who wish to strip public healthcare to the bone and ultimately leave the wider community more exposed to illness and suffering. To them, the suffering of the ill is an inconvenience and an expensive one at that. We should look for a more holistic and caring solution that preserves the right for all people to receive medical care regardless of age, illness, sexuality or race.
Amanda Vanstone’s column was originally published by Fairfax and can be read here.