Mental illness is no basis for euthanasia

22 September 2016

Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide continue to be widely debated in our community, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) is committed to contributing to discussions around this complex and emotive issue.

‘The RANZCP does not believe that psychiatric illness should ever be the basis for physician assisted suicide,’ said RANZCP President Professor Malcolm Hopwood.

‘Unrelievable psychiatric suffering is rare, and ensuring that a person suffering from mental illness has the appropriate capacity to make decisions in this context poses significant challenges. Mental illnesses are treatable, and there are many ways to get help.’

The RANZCP is also concerned about the potential impact of the debate about euthanasia on older persons.

‘There is a misconception that suicide in older people is largely driven by suffering associated with chronic, debilitating or terminal illness, whereas the factors behind suicide amongst older people are complex’, said Professor Hopwood. ‘The RANZCP calls for open debate on developing an integrated approach to service provision for the elderly focusing on their well-being, maintaining their independence and improving their quality of life.’

The RANZCP considers that the primary role of medical practitioners – including psychiatrists – in end of life care is to facilitate the provision of good quality, comprehensive and accessible patient-centred care. Palliative care should strive to achieve the best quality of life during the final stages of patients’ illnesses and allow patients to die with dignity. This should be adequately resourced and widely available.

Currently, physician assisted suicide is illegal in all Australian jurisdictions and in New Zealand however surveys in both countries indicate reasonable support for the legalisation of some kind of medically assisted dying. The RANZCP has developed a Position Statement to contribute to public discussions, and has made a recent submission to the New Zealand Health Select Committee’s investigation into ending one's life in New Zealand.

For more information on the RANZCP’s views on physician assisted suicide see:

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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit