I personally believe that the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide are outside the discipline of Palliative Medicine. I find that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are unethical. This position of mine is not dependent on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide remaining unlawful. Even if they were to become legal, or decriminalised, as has happened and is happening in many countries throughout the world, with Belgium being the latest shocker, I would still continue to regard them as unethical.
We should all be concerned about the way in which these things can drift over time.
I come round to saying this particularly because of the attitude taken by older people themselves, or people with terminal illnesses, amongst whom in a couple of years’ time children will be included, who then conclude that they are being an increasing burden to their families and then conclude that it is in other people’s interests, not their own best interests, to seek euthanasia.
I am also of the strongest opinion that legalized euthanasia or physician assisted suicide creates a medical and social atmosphere in which pressure can be put on vulnerable patients and elderly to end their lives out of fear of pain or loss of dignity.
Any imminent or potential (however remote for now they might appear) moves to legalise assisted suicide here in Malta could spell “disaster” for our society. In the ever-increasing number of countries that are toying with the legalization of euthanasia, there are parallels with the growth of abortion, and changing the law would create circumstances in which life would be “legally declared to be not worth living”.
Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.
Let us not mince words. Legalized euthanasia is a legalized form of suicide, disguised under a fine and intellect-sounding word, and euthanasia, when not legalized, is a form of assisted or induced suicide amounting to a criminal offence.
Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honour and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
What is more, recalling the lessons learnt from German history, I cannot help but hear in any proposed euthanasia law the echoes of the Nazi euthanasia program’s mantra: that some life is unworthy of life (lebensunwertes Leben). I also find compelling the argument that laws such as this transform the medical profession by erasing the distinction between “allowing to die” and “killing” while also violating the injunction “always to care, never to kill,” which one can trace back to the Hippocratic oath. In the final analysis, though, it is probably the notion of life as “gift,” which one should neither tamper with unduly (as biotech utopianists clamour for) nor take away that provides direction for me on the matter.
At the very least, I encourage readers to reflect seriously on the topic. The Death with Dignity movement has their eyes set on legislation in many others states. It might be coming to our nation soon.