Monday, 19 September 2016

PhD candidate Briony Murphy asks the tough questions in MJA reflective piece

SPHPM PhD candidate Briony Murphy has written a piece for the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) on her experience reviewing coroner’s files of suicide deaths among nursing home residents, and how this influenced her views on voluntary euthanasia. The reflective piece was accompanied with a podcast interview on the MJA news platform, InSight.

Public debate about legislating voluntary euthanasia has been sparked in recent months with the release of Andrew Denton’s podcast series, Better Off Dead which explores the enormous and complex issue of voluntary euthanasia.

Briony Murphy is perhaps one of the best placed in the field of ageing research to lend her expertise to the academic commentary, as she is conducting Australia’s first research into intentional deaths among nursing home residents in Australia.

She says the experience has, “left me with a deep and profound sense of the complexities of suicide among older adults, and how often and easily this can be overshadowed by the euthanasia debate”.

Briony’s PhD project focuses on describing the frequency and nature of intentional deaths including suicide and physical assaults between residents in the nursing home population in Australia, using existing medico-legal data generated for coroner’s investigations between 2000 and 2013.

The publication of data from this study is about six months away, with Briony due to complete her PhD early next year. In 2015 she published a systematic review of all available literature examining suicide deaths among nursing home residents, which revealed a telling lack of research in this area internationally.

“It was surprising to find that we still know so little about suicide in the nursing home setting when you consider the ageing population and growing demand on aged care services, coupled with the fact that older adults have one of the highest suicide rates in Australia and around the world,” Briony said in the MJA.

The review revealed that depression was evident in 67 per cent of nursing home residents who suicided, with the findings signifying to Briony that, “we need to urgently improve the quality of care and quality of life for older adults residing in aged care”.

“My main concerns are that vulnerable older people may continue to slip through the cracks between voluntary euthanasia laws for the terminally or chronically ill; and a lack of services and support for older adults with serious emotional and mental health needs,” she said.

Briony and the team based at the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit in SPHPM's Department of Forensic Medicine hope that the results of this research will be used to inform prevention policy to improve quality and life and quality of care for nursing home residents.

You can listen to Briony talking about her research here in a MJA special podcast, or read her MJA reflective piece here.

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