Published on August 5th, 2013 |
by Eve Stanger
Right to Live or Right to Die?
We’re constantly reminded of the human right to life, to walk this earth living and breathing as we please. It’s a universal right. But, with campaigns for euthanasia growing by the day, is our right to die being neglected?
Paul Lamb has recently lost his bid to the courts to call for a change in the British laws on euthanasia. Living a life severely paralysed following a car accident, he claimed there was a need for a change in the law due to way in which it conflicts with his right to a personal and family life that he is entitled to under European law. Here he argued that living in such a state where he has no autonomy and little control of his own life and personal functions, equated to a violation of this right and the UK law forcing him to stay alive was acting against his human rights. But the court were not convinced. Whilst recognising that he faced a permanent and catastrophic disability, they refused to change the law. Why was this Believing that the law was still justified as it was, they also argued that it was not their place to change the law on such a sensitive issue. Instead they argued that parliament was where any change would have to come from. In a statement regarding Paul Lamb’s case, Lord Judge stated that as parliament represented the conscience of a nation the court could not challenge the ruling of this conscience.
Euthanasia continues to be a key debate that dominates ethical discussions. As more countries around the world legalise euthanasia, there have been increasing calls for changes in UK policies. However, with the debate surrounding euthanasia up in flames, it is unlikely that any change to rulings on euthanasia is likely to occur any time soon. However, with the news on euthanasia dominated by tragic tales of those condemned to suffer in silence who believe that they need euthanasia, why are some people so against it?
One key argument against legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide is that it opens the door to further change. It is argued that if we were to legalise assisted suicide it would lead to calls for changes in laws around euthanasia, and if we were to legalise euthanasia could this have an impact on children. Belgium, who have seen a 5000% increase since 2002, are considering opening to door to children in suffering. But if a person isn’t deemed old enough to vote, to drive or to drink can they be trusted with life? Laws that raise the voting age are built on the basis that a teenager’s mind is not able to make such a decision, often concentrating on teenage impulsiveness as a factor against them making a serious decision. But surely a decision about continuing their own life is equally serious? It is quite terrifying to think that young people may be ending their lives prematurely, and if the boundaries are pushed to teenagers then what next? However, it equally needs to be remembered that, generally, 2/3rds of cases of euthanasia are rejected and doctors are likely to be even more carefully when dealing with cases of terminally ill young people.
What if people believe they ought to end their life mostly because they feel like a burden? This is the argument often presented to argue that, even with a strong regulatory system, it is impossible to entirely prevent abuse of the system. However, proponents to euthanasia argue that, such cases are still be at risk of being euthanised in other countries and legal euthanasia would make it possible to deal with this factor as psychological and assessment would undoubtedly be an integral part of any new law regarding euthanasia. Equally, it is a heartbreaking truth that even without legislation euthanasia occurs in cases like this and this will continue to happen regardless of any change in legislation. Perhaps legislation could act as a way to help monitor this, offer support and truly examine all cases and put a stop to the 3000 illegal cases that occur.
So what are the Dutch laws on euthanasia? How do they regulate their cases? The first requirement for a case is that the illness or condition must be incurable, second is that a person must have full control of their mental state and be deemed in a psychological position to make the decision and thirdly they must have volunteered themselves. If these requirements are met a person’s case must then be approved by two independent doctors. With these conditions it is often a case that a person’s life is only shortened by weeks, days or even hours but it is argued it allows them to die in a way that made them feel more dignified and let them leave the disease rather than allowing it to take them. This was why Max Bromson fought for euthanasia as a legal option for him, he wanted to choose his death so he could die with less suffering and before he lost control of his personal functions as well as the pleasure and meaning that was long gone.
But if any change in euthanasia laws were to occur it would not be a case of one size fits all approach. Equally a decision needn’t come in one ruling, perhaps if we want any change then attempts to change the UK law through one bid through legalising euthanasia are futile, instead maybe gradual change is a better approach? Opponents to euthanasia argue that if a patient were to receive adequate palliative care then they would not feel the need for euthanasia. It is argued that if they were treated well enough and giving the psychological and physical help they needed they then wouldn’t feel as if they were in the same unbearable level of suffering.Though for some that no amount palliative care is enough, perhaps reforming palliative care is the first step that needs to be taken. Improving palliative care would improve the lives for many as well as making progress in helping us to truly understand whether it could lessen claims for euthanasia by treating people as people rather than a list of symptoms. Though there are fears that allowing euthanasia could replace palliative care, this needn’t be the case. Proponents are fighting to prove that the two could work together in order to give people full control of how they want to live their last days. In this sense, calls to respect a person’s autonomy are truly met.
However, issues surrounding euthanasia have become caught up in disabled people’s quality of life and even in issues of abortion and eugenic. Some have argued that ending a life due to pain from a hereditary issue implies that life being disabled isn’t worth living and consequently suggests a need to use eugenics to prevent a child being born with the same disorder. In response proponents have argued that choosing to end a life in constant pain is far from never living at all and it dangerous and unnecessary to intertwine the debates.
It’s undeniable that there are many risks in allowing euthanasia or assisted suicide in any form. There are problems of feelings of pressure and guilt as well as arguments surrounding the role placed on doctors by allowing euthanasia. But, as stories of families who have had to watch their loved ones suffer in silence continue to hit the news, it is clear that parliament need to address the issue. It ought to be considered that euthanasia is often condemned for the way in which it could give rise to masses of cases where euthanasia would be far from the right option or the patient’s individual choice. But campaigners for euthanasia aren’t asking for a widespread nationwide network of hospitals, through which sufficient regulation would be impossible. Instead to them, if a step towards legalised euthanasia were to be taken, it could be on a small scale with strong regulation and a clear process built in focusing on the psychological side for the patient. Not only would this allow for sufficient regulation but it would equally reflect the way that euthanasia is not an easy way out or an everyday option open to abuse. Instead it could serve as the only option left for those in more severe cases who know that their death imminent but want their last days to on their terms. Whether this would solve the problem surrounding euthanasia cannot be easily determined but regardless of the standing on euthanasia, improving palliative care as a first step would put the theory that it would lower calls for euthanasia to the test as well as improving the lives of many.