April 5th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Iraq war: will it change everything?

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: urgent action needed

Queensland: Beattie follows Canberra on embryo experimentation

Water rights: an emerging political issue in the Murray Darling Basin

Straws in the Wind: Varieties of folly / With us or against us / Cue for a song / Hatred

NSW Election: Bob Carr's next four years

Trade deal: what will Washington do?

Euthanasia: Victorian Tribunal orders death by starvation

Has privatisation been successful?

Letters: The cost of the Victorian bushfires (letter)

How taxation hits families

School students, demonstrations and the New Civics

ASIA: North Korea's nuclear game

SARS: China the epicentre of world flu outbreaks

BOOKS: On Enlightenment, by David Stove

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Euthanasia: Victorian Tribunal orders death by starvation

by David Perrin

News Weekly, April 5, 2003
Victorian government officials are about to order a woman with dementia to be starved and dehydrated to death.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal early in March gave approval for feeding tubes to be removed from the woman claiming that the tubes were medical treatment and could be discontinued.

The provision of nutrition and fluids by means of a feeding tube can never be medical treatment but are in fact palliative care that is in the best interests of the patient.


The husband of the 68-year-old woman approached the Tribunal just before last Christmas seeking to be appointed as her guardian so as to order the removal of the feeding tubes. The woman suffers from a form of dementia called Pick's Disease.

The Victoria Right to Life intervened to protect the woman but were overruled by the Tribunal which appointed the Public Advocates Office to be her guardian.

The Office of the Public Advocate, a state government authority, as the woman's guardian is now in the position of making the decision to remove the feeding tubes. Representatives from the Office have said they will consult with the husband, medical staff and members of the woman's family before making a decision, but have indicated a willingness to order the removal of the tubes.

The Victorian Public Advocate has a duty to protect the interests of vulnerable Victorians that are not able to look after themselves. As guardians they must protect the weak and not become their executioners.

Behind the scenes, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society has been assisting the husband with his case.

In the Melbourne Herald Sun, the President of the Society suggested that the woman be sedated during the 16 or so days that it could take for her to die of dehydration and starvation. He stated that he would prefer a quicker form of death.

The dehydration and starvation of a human being is the most horrible form of death that is known. The process is highly degrading for the victim and her carers as the long slow process of death occurs.

During the dehydration process the human body consumes its fluids to the point where the skin dries before splitting open and causing unbearable pain for the victim. It has been known for the tongue to split and for most of the internal organs to fail.

During the starvation process the human body consumes its own body mass causing the body to waste away as happens to sufferers of anorexia. The flesh disappears leaving the skeleton with the eyes sinking into their sockets.

Eventual death is usually the result of heart failure.

Undignified death

Carers for the victim must stand around the victim without being to be able to intervene during the undignified death. They have no right of objection.

Clearly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society knows full well the physical effects of dehydration and starvation, which is why they suggested sedation as the woman would be in extreme pain during the dying process.

Since the first principle of good government is protection of the weak and vulnerable, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks must now step in and stop the torture of this helpless woman.

Firstly, he must order the public servants at the Office of the Public Advocate not to permit the removal of the feeding tubes.

Secondly, he must order a vigorous appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria to overturn the Tribunal's decision.

Thirdly, he must amend the law to ensure this vulnerable woman is protected from a horrible death if there is any doubt that the law is inadequate to protect citizens from being dehydrated and starved to death.

People who are revolted by the prospect of citizens with dementia being starved to death can write to Premier Bracks with a copy of this article and demand that he act.

Premier Bracks can be contacted at 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne 3002,
fax 03 9651 5298, or email at steve.bracks@parliament.vic.gov.au

  • David Perrin is National President of the Australian Family Association

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