'You should check out on your own terms'

Unanderra resident Richard Kramer supports this month's NSW Supreme Court decision that allowed a quadriplegic man to refuse the medical treatment that was keeping him alive.

Mr Kramer has been a quadriplegic since he broke his neck diving off a bridge into Minnamurra Rivulet three decades ago - he was just 20 at the time.

He is confined to an electric wheelchair which he controls with his chin but said his heart went out to the young man, known as JS, who had been kept alive via a breathing ventilator since the age of seven.

Earlier this month, Judge Rowan Darke said that staff at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle would be acting lawfully by switching off the ventilator - granting JS his wish to die on his 28th birthday.

'To depend on a machine to give you life, to be constantly attached to a ventilator, I can understand that in his eyes he didn't have any quality of life.'

"Being in a wheelchair and being attached to a ventilator since he was seven years old - I just can't imagine how hard his life would have been," Mr Kramer said.

"I've lived with a spinal cord injury for 31 years but at least I got to experience life to its fullest for my first 20 years and I can still get around.

"To depend on a machine to give you life, to be constantly attached to a ventilator, I can understand that in his eyes he didn't have any quality of life."

It's a case that again raises moral and ethical issues, something Mr Kramer does not shy away from.

"If you have a terminal illness or you are in a situation like JS where you have a condition that has caused your life to deteriorate to such a degree - then you should be able to check out on your own terms," he said. "You put an animal down humanely while people have to suffer right through to the end."

University of Wollongong medical ethicist Professor Colin Thomson said courts had an important role to play in cases like this.

"The clear thing about this case and a number of others like it in the last five years is that the man was clearly competent, clearly understood the situation and the decision he made," he said.

"It's very clear that capable patients have a right to cease treatment even when they know that it will lead to their deaths - that's been established in Australia for some time."

Mr Thomson said it was more difficult when patients lacked the capacity to express their wishes, or were no longer able to do so.

He said the refusal of medical treatment differed to euthanasia. "Here the patient is saying 'I am refusing treatment and I know when I cease that treatment I will die'. With euthanasia, the patient is asking someone to give them something that will cause their death."

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