Monday, 29 March 2010

Euthanasia, Singapore and the human rights debate

Let there be no doubt, suicide is a morally untenable position. However, that does not mean euthanasia should be illegal.

The euthanasia debate has recently found its way into the columns of Singapore's newspapers. Since, no opinion of substance can be considered complete without an interjection by the Grand Moofti, here are my two cents!!
Let's first consider whether euthanasia is suicide.  
Merriam-Webster defines suicide as "the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind." Euthanasia, on the other hand, is "the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy."
Clearly, there is a fine distinction between the two behaviours.
Euthanasia is morally and religiously difficult to justify. But then so is gambling and gambling is legal in many jurisdictions, including Singapore.
It is wrong to legislate away a person's right to act on the basis of their own conscience unless there are reasonable grounds to suspect it will affect the well being of others. Other than the emotional trauma of those near and dear to the intended victims, it is difficult to suggest that euthanasia harms others.

Hence, the real debate about euthanasia should centre on the situation in which it is permissible, i.e. the delineation of a 'hopelessly sick' individual and the extent to which the authorities may determine the same. Is someone who can be kept alive indefinitely on a hospital bed an eligible candidate for euthanasia? Can close family members and relatives decide to pull the plug on elderly parents?
There are a host of other issues which must be addressed by any cohesive legal framework permitting euthanasia. But legalizing assisted suicide (let's call it suicide just to complicate matters!) should not be avoided just because it is complicated or morally disagreeable to many. It can easily be argues that euthanasia is a humane behaviour both for the 'victim' and his family.   
Freewill must be a guiding principle for legislation, even if it leads to validating extreme actions like euthanasia. Let individuals be accountable for their own behaviours to their own conscience.
Which side plays God in the debate is questionable: those who suggest suicide is immoral and wish to impose their views on others, or those who wish to end their own lives peaceably under medical supervision?
Being mortal myself, I cannot answer the question.
Watch a video of John Elliot's voluntary euthanasia in Switzerland, includes a brief summary of Swiss law on the subject.

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