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Press Club address covers wide range of topics

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AMA President Dr Michael Gannon’s Address to the National Press Club of Australia was both well delivered and well received – covering a wide range of topics of importance to health practitioners and their patients.

It was the second time Dr Gannon had addressed the Press Club, a Canberra-based national institution and forum for policy debate, and will likely be the last as President of the AMA.

During the nationally televised event on August 23, Dr Gannon laid out the AMA’s priorities for the future and highlighted its recent achievements in influencing policy outcomes.

He also fielded a range of questions from the Canberra Press Gallery.

Titled Beyond the Freeze – Time for Heavy Lifting in Heath, Dr Gannon noted there had been numerous changes in the realm of health policy since he last spoke at the Press Club 12 months ago.

“There is no more talk of co-payments,” he said.

“The cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging bulk billing incentives have been reversed.

“The general practice pathology rents issue has, for the most part, been resolved.

“The Medicare freeze has a ‘use by date’. It can’t come soon enough.”

Dr Gannon said while the AMA wanted an immediate end to the freeze right across the Medicare Benefits Schedule, it didn’t quite get it.

The hour-long address, which involved both a speech and a question and answer session, was moderated by National Press Club President Chris Uhlmann.

Mr Uhlmann at the time was also the ABC News Political Editor, but has since resigned to join the Nine Network as Laurie Oakes’s replacement as Political Editor.

Not one to be passive while in the moderator’s chair, Mr Uhlmann joined in with his Press Gallery colleagues to grill Dr Gannon on a few policy areas.

One insightful exchange was over the emotive issue of euthanasia and the role doctors have in end-of-life care.

“Could you speak just a little bit more on the principle of double effect?” Mr Uhlmann asked.

“I don’t think that most people actually understand that it’s available and actually exists in Catholic canon law, that if someone dies as effect of their pain management being turned up to a point where that’s the secondary effect, that’s something you can even request in a Catholic hospital.”

Dr Gannon’s response was both revealing and informative.

One of the things you have to be very careful doing when you’re talking on ethical matters is to invoke Catholic canon law, because there are some people who would have great concerns about that,” he said.

“But, Chris, who I know is a scholar in this area, will be able to tell you that this all goes back to St Thomas Aquinas. This is well established in Catholic ethics. And it’s a well-established ethical principle which is very much secular as well.

“But in very simple terms it means that if your primary intention is to relieve suffering, and by secondary effect it has the effect of hastening someone’s life, that is ethically, completely distinct from the intention of ending someone’s life.

“So, if we look at proposed assisted dying laws, the intention is to end the patient’s life. If you look at palliative care, the intention is to relieve pain and suffering. The intention is important.

“I can promise you that palliative care physicians, the nurses who work with them, the teams they work in, they’re a great example of multidisciplinary care for all of us, but they work very carefully and compassionately to provide a level of care which is seven levels above the morphine drip that you’ve all heard of.”