Seniors’ plea to Australian doctors
Senior Australians have reacted with alarm to reports that Italian doctors were advised to prioritise younger coronavirus patients over the elderly, and are calling on the federal government to ensure such a situation does not happen here.
Advice issued to doctors by the Italian College of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care stated that intensive care units might need to set upper age limits on patients as the country grappled with an overwhelming coronavirus outbreak.
Ian Henschke, Chief Advocate of National Seniors Australia, said that sort of discrimination against the elderly would be unacceptable under Australia's universal health system.
"We have a responsibility to look after a 95 year old as much as a five year old," he said. "We don't want to see anyone of any age valued more than anybody of any other age."
"In floods and fires, Australians go out of the way to help older Australians," he said. "We're renowned as a country for looking after people in times of crisis."
Dr Chris Moy, chair of the Australian Medical Association's Ethics and Medico-legal Committee, said that while Australian doctors would likely face "some very difficult ethical decisions" because of a mismatch between their available resources and the need of patients, an Italian-style situation was unlikely.
"Italy was a disaster in terms of their decision making," he said. "They got themselves in real trouble by not dealing with the problem early."
The mismatch between resources and needs was greater in Italy than it would likely be in Australia, Dr Moy said.
The AMA's position statement on Ethical Considerations for Medical Practitioners in Public Health Emergencies states that doctors may need to decide not to treat "a gravely ill … individual who cannot be saved … in order to treat others who can be saved".
But Dr Moy stressed that it was vital Australian doctors did not discriminate in the treatment of coronavirus patients.
"Australians don't accept discrimination, in any way, including on age, and doctors should not be applying their own values on situations, including on the value of life," he said.
Mr Henschke said he believed Australians would not want to see a situation in which the rights of the elderly to healthcare were trampled.
"We need to appeal to appeal to the best in people," he said. "We're good at times like this. We need to remind ourselves."
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said Federal Government measures were "aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to save lives".
"We must ensure our health system can care for the most vulnerable, in particular the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions," he said.