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Let us decide when and how to die, say older Australians

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A large majority of older people want the right to control the circumstances and timing of their death, and can envisage a situation in which they would seek help to end their life, a survey has found.

But, suggesting that talking about death remains a taboo topic for many, almost 36 per cent of 1804 people aged 50 years and older surveyed by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) NSW admitted they had not discussed their end-of-life care wishes with anyone.
Encouragingly, the online survey found that an overwhelming majority of older people (85 per cent) judged themselves to be in good or excellent health, while just two per cent rated their health as poor.

As part of the study, participants were asked about access to health care, and almost 80 per cent reported driving to see their GP, highlighting concerns about the health implications for the elderly if they lose their driver’s licence.
Reflecting this, 20 per cent said better public transport was needed in order to improve access to their GP, while more than 43 per cent thought there should be greater co-location of health services.

Among older people, consistency in GP care was rated highly – more than 40 per cent said the most important aspect of GP visits was seeing the same doctor every time. A further 22 per cent thought having their diagnosis and treatment explained so that they could manage their recovery was most important, while 19 per cent rated prompt service most highly.

When it came to hospital treatment, almost 50 per cent of those surveyed considered that having their diagnosis and treatment explained so that they could manage their recovery was most important, while almost 34 per cent set highest store on being treated with dignity and respect.
In a sign of unease among many about current arrangements, more than a quarter felt palliative care did not provide a comfortable end to life.
Of those who had discussed their end-of-life wishes with others, 64 per cent reported they had had such a conversation with their partner or carer, 58 per cent said they had discussed it with their children, 34 per cent had talked about it with friends, 22.6 per cent had discussed it with their GP and 20.6 per cent had had the conversation with their lawyer.

Most commonly (55 per cent), people wanted to die at home, while 12 per cent wanted to pass away in hospital, and many (26 per cent) remained unsure.
What was clear was that most (76.8 per cent) wanted the right to decide where and when they would die, including the possibility that they might be assisted in ending their life.

It is the latest survey suggesting that there is considerable support in the community for euthanasia laws.
COTA NSW said the survey showed that “older Australians are willing and able to take a high level of control over their lives, including the final phase of their lives”.

Adrian Rollins