WA palliative care specialists are urging Federal MPs to reject the legalisation of euthanasia, warning doctors do not want to be put in the position of having to end patients' lives.
They have told a parliamentary inquiry looking at the proposed introduction of national right-to-die laws that rather than deliberately ending life, more should be done on improving care for the terminally ill.
Perth Federal Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan and Greens Victorian senator Richard Di Natale are spearheading a push for national euthanasia laws.
Under Senator Di Natale's "dying with dignity" private member's Bill, three doctors would need to give their approval before a terminally ill patient could undergo euthanasia. Euthanasia would be limited to adults and Australian residents.
But members of the WA Palliative Medicine Specialists Group, which includes doctors from the State's major hospitals, worry that legalising euthanasia would change society's attitude to matters of life and death.
Doug Bridge, former head of Royal Perth Hospital's palliative care service, said it was "abhorrent" to put doctors in the position of having to end a patient's life.
"Why should we be forced to kill people," he said. "We don't think it's wise, we don't think it is ethical.
"To change our role to become the person who causes death is quite a different role.
"We're not comfortable with that role and don't think it is good for families."
Dr Bridge said the popular view that many terminally ill patients requested euthanasia because of intolerable pain was wrong. Instead, most patients asked for it because they did not want to be a burden or felt despair.
He said a lack of understanding about palliative care, such as pain relief medication and sedation that can be offered, also coloured a patient's thinking.
"What people are requesting is to be in control of decision-making at the end of their lives," Dr Bridge said.
"They want the right to a comfortable, dignified death. We believe that good palliative care can satisfy this desire."
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14