Euthanasia is a deliberate act or omission, undertaken with the intention of ending a person’s life. Euthanasia is illegal in all Australian states and territories except for Victoria where legislation for Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) was passed in 2019. (Assisted suicide is to deliberately help or encourage someone to end their life.)

Euthanasia has been an ever present debate in palliative care. The last two decades have seen a rise in active pro-euthanasia advocates pushing for legislation across the world. However, palliative care is aimed at supporting people at the end of their life, and this never involves an intention to end a patient's life.

A request for euthanasia sometimes comes from family members. Nurses may be asked by families to give their loved one something to 'end it all'. This may be when the person is unconscious or in the final days of life, and appears uncomfortable, as if they are suffering. Families will sometimes draw comparisons with the humane treatment of animals who are considered to have intolerable suffering.

Any request for euthanasia need to be addressed, regardless of the source or nature. Actively listening to the concerns and fears of the person can help ascertain why they have come to make this request. Talking to others within the health care team, whenever possible, also provides a multidisciplinary approach to a situation that shouldn’t rest with one practitioner.

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Last updated 09 July 2020