A GP’s petition for dying refugee on Nauru receives huge swell of support

Amanda Lyons

18/06/2018 3:21:39 PM

Sydney GP Dr Sara Townend felt moved to take action when she discovered that a refugee on Nauru is facing a lonely death if he continues to be denied access to proper palliative care in Australia.

Sydney GP Dr Sara Townend was moved to act when she read that the Federal Government would not allow a dying refugee to access proper palliative care in Australia and be allowed ‘a good death’.
Sydney GP Dr Sara Townend was moved to act when she read that the Federal Government would not allow a dying refugee to access proper palliative care in Australia and be allowed ‘a good death’.

Ali* is a 63-year-old Afghan refugee currently being held on Nauru who is dying of late-stage lung cancer.
However, despite the fact he has been formally recognised as a refugee by the Federal Government, the Australian Border Force (ABF) has refused to allow his transport to Australia to access palliative care unavailable to him in the hospital on Nauru.
When Dr Sara Townend, a Sydney-based GP who works in adult and paediatric palliative care, read about Ali’s situation last week, she felt moved to take action.
‘I’ve seen people in palliative care who have been able to die a good death surrounded by family with sometimes really complex medical challenges well-resolved, and I’ve seen people who have died alone without that support and without their medication solved,’ she told newsGP.
‘So when I heard Australia had recognised this man wasn’t a security risk, but was going to send him somewhere else or allow him to die a bad death on Nauru, I was incensed.’

ABF-hero-(2).jpgThe Australian Border Force has refused to allow Ali’s transport to Australia to access palliative care that is unavailable in the hospital on Nauru. (Image: Dan Peled)
Dr Townend immediately wrote a petition letter directly to the Department of Home Affairs and its Federal Minister, Peter Dutton. The petition has gained far more traction than she had ever thought, with signatures from more than 1200 doctors at the time of writing.
‘I initially texted a few friends and put it on my Facebook page, and thought two or three people might sign it with me,’ she said. ‘And then friends started sharing it with their friends and colleagues.
‘I’ve been overwhelmed and incredibly proud that my colleagues would want to help [Ali] too.’
The ABF suggested sending Ali to Taiwan to receive palliative care, but he rejected this offer on the grounds that he had no community in Taiwan and therefore no translator or anyone to perform the correct Shia Muslim rituals after his death.
Dr Townend believes such requirements are a vital aspect of palliative care, giving people control and dignity at the end of their lives.
‘We have exactly what Ali needs in Australia,’ she said. ‘Being able to bring his family here would make a perfect ending, although it is not possible.
‘But the next best thing is connecting him with the community where he can speak his own language.’
Dr Townend hopes her petition might help to persuade the ABF and the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow Ali to access proper palliative care, either by bringing him to Australia or sending the care to him, depending on the severity of his condition.
‘If he requires syringe drivers and medications like that, he also requires the staff or the expertise in order to be able to monitor those. That’s not something you can do remotely without anyone who has experience in those things,’ she said.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel discussed his concerns about the healthcare of asylum seekers in a statement late last year.
‘We are extremely worried about the health and safety of these vulnerable people,’ he said. ‘As medical practitioners, we cannot sit back knowing the standard of care received by those seeking asylum in Australia is anything but acceptable.
‘This is not about politics. This is about the health and safety of a group of very helpless people.’
Dr Townend said she is not seeking headlines or publicity with her petition. Rather, her main concern is in trying to provide that Ali the assistance he needs at the end of his life with dignity and compassion.
‘Imagine being called by a number and dying by yourself,’ she said.
‘I can’t comment on how Peter Dutton might respond to this, but hopefully he would choose to do what’s right.’
* Full name is being withheld to protect the family.

Nauru palliative care Refugee health refugee patients

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Jeanette thomas   20/06/2018 3:50:19 AM

This is unacceptable and inhumane.
I cannot vote for your party as a nurse or human being.