Euthanasia debate: Value of life not linked to its quality

PHOTO: Euthanasia debate: Value of life not linked to its quality

It would be a tragic day when euthanasia is seen as a step towards being a compassionate society ("Euthanasia can be governed by legislation" by Mr S. Ratnakumar; Forum Online, below).

Suicide is considered a crime here. This law serves not as a deterrent; rather, it symbolises that our society holds the intrinsic value of life in high regard. This means that life itself has value. The value of one's life has nothing to do with one's quality of life.

Once quality of life is used to measure the value of one's life, it takes only a few leaps of logic to view terminally ill, ageing, disabled or even poor people as living less worthy lives.

Singapore already has the Advance Medical Directive Act, which allows people to reject extraordinary life-sustaining treatment when they are terminally ill and unconscious.

There is no need to go one step further to allow doctors to assist patients in dying.

Despite strict legislative requirements, a 2010 Canadian Medical Association Journal study found that 32 per cent of assisted deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium occurred in the absence of request or consent.

The European Institute of Bioethics also released a 10-year study in 2012 that noted several abuses of the law in Belgium, such as ignoring legislation that required a written declaration of a desire for euthanasia by either the patient or a surrogate.

Putting aside possible abuses of the law, do we want a society where there is pressure on the aged and the sick to "choose" to die so that they can ease the burden on their families?

To me, the answer is simple. There is only the right to life in Singapore; no right to die should be desired or created.

Letter by Tan Jin Yong

Euthanasia can be governed by legislation

Everyone will die sooner or later, and it is only natural to want to have the right to not only live a quality life but also die with dignity ("'Right to die' not a human right" by Mr Darius Lee; next page).

The moment a person becomes terminally ill and suffers unbearable and untreatable pain, he loses his right to live a quality life. Needless to say, it is painful for others to see their loved one suffer while being unable to help.

To a compassionate society, euthanasia is an act of kindness rather than an excuse to "eliminate the ill", and legalising euthanasia is truly a step towards being a compassionate society.

Euthanasia has been legalised in some countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The argument that "the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed would feel pressure to request early death if laws against assisted suicide were relaxed" does not hold water in Singapore, for there can be little or no loopholes in our legal system, and society here is, by and large, compassionate and law-abiding.

While respecting the faith-based views against euthanasia, helping the terminally ill to die with dignity is more merciful than forcing them to prolong their pain-filled lives.

Above all, euthanasia can be safely governed by government legislation.

Letter from S. Ratnakumar

'Right to die' not a human right

'Right to die' not a human right

IN HIS letter (" Let patients choose how they wish to end their days "), Dr George Wong Seow Choon claimed it is a "human right" to let the dying "choose how they wish to end their last days on earth".

Dr Wong is deeply mistaken. While the right to life is a human right, the "right to die" is not.

The right to life is a fundamental human right protected by various international human rights instruments as well as our Constitution.

In a case in 2002, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the right to life under the European Convention could not be interpreted as conferring a "right to die".

The relaxation of laws protecting life does not only affect some, but also fundamentally alters the value of all human life, especially that of the vulnerable or those perceived as having a lower "quality of life".

In a 1994 report, the British House of Lords' select committee on medical ethics expressed concern that the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed would feel pressure to request early death if laws against assisted suicide were relaxed. And in 2006, a Private Member's Bill attempting to legalise assisted dying in Britain was strongly condemned by disability rights groups, even though the Bill was later amended to cover only the terminally ill. In any case, it was blocked by the House of Lords.

Given the irreversible nature of the process and the costs at stake, there is a real prospect of abuse in the event that such practices are legalised.

For example, a 2010 study reported that 32 per cent of the assisted deaths in the region of Flanders in Belgium between June and November 2007 were done without explicit request.

We should strive to build a compassionate and caring society that respects the intrinsic worth and dignity of all human life. We should focus on eliminating illnesses, rather than permitting the elimination of the ill.

Letter from Darius Lee

This article was published on May 7 in The Straits Times.

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