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Pattaya Daily News

18 March 2010 :: 13:03:07 pm 15954

Individual’s Right to Die: Assisted Suicide

Modern medicine has brought great relief and benefits to humanity, but cannot solve the distress of pain and suffering of the dying process.
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Each person deals with death in their own way which is determined by their personal living conditions, their health and most of all their health. The degree of physical pain and psychological distress that can be tolerated is different in each individual with life judgments being private and personal so only the sufferer can make any relevant decisions.

As suicide is no longer a crime, should it be acceptable to prosecute well meaning people for assisting the sufferer in his or her death. Should medically hastened death by request be made lawful as it now is in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland and the US states of Oregon and Washington, although they all have their own set of rules.

Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care must be respectfully considered by medical professionals at all times. Electing to die by terminal sedation is a choice provided it is freely made by the sufferer, as is choosing to die by starvation and dehydration which should be accompanied by palliative care.

There is a lot of controversy over the best way to describe how a Doctor assists a terminally ill person to die under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act of 1994, with many people disliking the words suicide, euthanasia and Hemlock but at the same time wanting the name to be clearly spelled out as they think it will help their opposing case.

The death law became operative in 1988 in Oregon with the Department of Human Services DHS using the term ‘Physician Assisted Suicide’ in its annual reports on when and how the law is used.

The Oregon law was referred to as either suicide or assisted suicide by journalists and broadcasters, rarely mentioning that this could only be carried out by licensed physicians after observing the rules.

Numerous criticism from the right to live forces on whether to call the procedure ‘Physician Assisted Death’ which they said could mean a number of things, resulted in the DHS naming the procedure ‘Death With Dignity’. The flaw to this is that this term could also mean different things to different people. To one person Death With Dignity could mean an overdose, while to another it could mean dying while thinking of Christ’s suffering on the cross.

It is thought that the DHS should stick with ‘Physician Assisted Suicide’ with the physician assisted in front as it describes the action precisely in the humanitarian manner and its lawfulness is apparent to most people.

In the countries where assisted suicide is available, the death resulting from assisted suicide is not sad and depressive, because it is helped by a competent Doctor and is quick.

The Upper House of the Netherlands Parliament passed a law in April 2001, whereby the termination of life on request and assisted suicide will not be treated as a criminal offence if carried out by a physician and certain criteria of care fulfilled.


Netherlands have a variety of provisions prohibiting the intentional taking of human life in their criminal code although termination of life on request is permitted in certain defined circumstances by virtue of a non prosecution agreement between the Netherlands Ministry of Justice and the Royal Dutch Medical Association.

Before any termination is carried out, the physician must ensure that the request for termination of life or assistance with suicide is made by the patient and is voluntary and the patient’s situation of unbearable suffering must be established, bearing no hope of improvement.

Under the new legislation, a physician terminating a life on request or assists with a suicide must comply with two conditions to be exempt from criminal liability. The exemption criteria does not decriminalize other forms of termination of life, additionally under the legislation it clearly does not state that patients have a right to demand termination of life or assisted suicide, nor that physicians must abide by the request.

There are five regional review committees that are composed of an uneven number of members and must consist of a legal expert, a doctor and an expert in the fields of ethics and philosophy.

The legislation also covers requests for termination of life or assisted suicide by minors. A Physician may comply with a request by minors between the ages of 12 and 16 where they are deemed to be capable of making a reasonable appraisal of their own interests and the parents or guardians are unable to agree to the assisted termination. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 the legislation provides that a physician may act on a request where they are deemed capable of making a reasonable appraisal of their own interests and the physician has consulted with the parents or guardians of the minor.

The majority of people of the Netherlands are in support of voluntary euthanasia and it is a fact that willing Doctors in the Netherlands have been participating in voluntary euthanasia for a considerable time, with research suggesting that Australians, including health professionals also supporting voluntary euthanasia.

Law enforcement in Holland will crack down on any non physician assisted suicide they find, recently sentencing an old man to six months imprisonment for assisting a sick old woman to die.

In 2003, a writer was charged with the assisted suicide of her mother that she had written about in her book. She was charged with manslaughter by administering excessive morphine and served only half her fifteen month prison sentence. She remained unrepentant.

The Supreme Court of Victoria Australia, in July 2003 a man was sentenced to 18 months in jail, but his jail sentence was totally suspended after he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting in the suicide of his terminally sick wife, actions that the judge considered to be out of love, compassion and humanity, thus not deserving of imprisonment.

April 1999 Doctor Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 -25 years in jail for assisted suicide.

In the US today, we see yet another Doctor awaiting trial for similar offences in two states.

The committee of the European Council showed support in the need to change the law on assisted suicide or termination of life, with their approach shown in a draft.

1. Nobody has the right to impose on the terminally-ill and the dying the obligation to live out their life in unbearable suffering and anguish where they themselves have persistently expressed the wish to end it.

2. There is no implied obligation on any health worker to take part in an act of euthanasia, nor can
such an act be interpreted as the expression of lesser consideration for human life.

3. Governments of Council of Europe member states are asked to collect and analyse empirical evidence about end-of-life decisions; to promote public discussion of such evidence; to promote comparative analysis of such evidence in the framework of the Council of Europe; and, in the light of such evidence and public discussion, to consider whether enabling legislation authorizing euthanasia should be envisaged.

Patty Brown

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Legal

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