Euthanasia – Judge for Yourself

PALPRAC Chair Dr. Julia Ambler discussing Palliative Care in the context of an ongoing discussion on euthanasia.


MEDIA RELEASE – Euthanasia is not a Palliative Care practice.

As the Association of Palliative Care Practitioners of South Africa (PALPRAC), we would appreciate this opportunity to respond and describe Palliative Care more comprehensively due to the recent debate around euthanasia in the media. Euthanasia is not a Palliative Care practice.

The aim of Palliative Care is to actively and compassionately address the suffering of patients with life-threatening illnesses. This is achieved by alleviating “total” pain. Patients and their family members are supported with physical, psychosocial, and spiritual care in response to their assessed current and anticipated needs. This holistic approach allows for rapid and effective relief of suffering, allowing a patient and their family to live with optimal quality of life until the time of death.

The intention is to focus on measures that bring comfort and an extra layer of support to patients and their families whilst they are actively living, and to assist in preparations for and beyond the death of the patient. Death is considered a natural, inevitable process and Palliative Care aims to neither hasten nor postpone it. Fears, which understandably result from the anticipation of a person’s death, may be allayed with the assurance of impeccable assessment of pain and other distressing symptoms, prompt and pre-emptive interdisciplinary Palliative Care, transparent communication and empowering patients and their families to voice their health care wishes.

We respect the autonomy of the patient, particularly in relation to their healthcare preferences, however, Palliative Care does not condone or support the practice of euthanasia. The literature supports that, with better understanding and provision of quality Palliative Care, there are fewer requests for euthanasia. Palliative Care practitioners endeavour to act ethically when making difficult recommendations regarding withdrawing and withholding of treatments and in so doing undertake not to prolong unnecessary suffering. We recognize that suffering is unique to each person, therefore our care is tailored within a trusting therapeutic relationship. In our experience, patients remain hopeful in meaning-making during their journey, despite deteriorating health and impending death. This personalised support eases the family’s experience of grief.

Euthanasia does not form part of Palliative Care practice. The vulnerable need to be protected, even more so near the end-of-life. Few understand Palliative Care as a choice in care and currently only a minority have access to this valuable service.

Our call as Palliative Care practitioners would be to clarify the difference between Palliative Care and euthanasia, and to increase the awareness, access and availability of Palliative Care within all sectors of our South African health care system.