Right to die…or right to kill?
Eight years ago, when odd-job labourer Lim Kian Huat, then 46, smothered his 49-year-old sister to death with a pillow, he was sentenced to jail for a year. She had been suffering from colon cancer for years and had begged him to end her life. In Singapore, a person caught for attempted suicide can be jailed for up to a year. Assisting a suicide is a serious crime and carries severe penalties, including a mandatory jail term. Sometimes, a doctor would perform a death-causing act, usually a lethal injection, after determining that the patient indeed intends to end his life. This is known as euthanasia. It is still not legal in many countries although calls for legalising euthanasia have been growing louder in recent years. This article discusses the case for euthanasia, presenting economic considerations and the individual’s right to choose as key reasons. It then outlines the arguments that opposers to euthanasia put up. While it is tougher to make a compelling case, they contend that legalizing euthanasia destroys respect for human life and the mystery of life and death. They also point out that allowing euthanasia usually leads to the slippery slope of abuse and threatens the morals of future generations. The conclusion weighs the merits of both camps and makes a reasoned judgement on the issue of whether society should allow euthanasia. 2. Arguments For Euthanasia
1. Economic Considerations
As medical costs soar and the large baby boomer generation ages, putting pressure on already-strained health-care and welfare systems worldwide, governments have been forced to ask if it makes economic sense to allow euthanasia. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October pointed out that allowing legal euthanasia for terminally ill patients could cut American health-care costs by US$627 million (S$940 million) per year. Recent extraordinary medical advances are prolonging both life and the process of dying – and adding quite substantive medical costs to society. By 2030, one in four people in Europe will be 65 or older. In the US, it will be one in five, similar to Singapore. The population trends indicate that there will be less and less economically productive people to support the burgeoning medical bills for more and more dependent senior citizens. Meanwhile, the fight to legalise euthanasia is gathering force as more senior citizens challenge the laws. Luxembourg, despite being largely Roman Catholic, approved a law in February 2008 allowing euthanasia. In November 2008, the American state of Washington approved a law allowing physician-assisted suicide, where terminally ill people can be prescribed lethal medication. It is the second American state to do so, after Oregon in 1997. 2.2 Right to Choose
Euthanasia advocates base their arguments on respect for individual autonomy and the failure of palliative care to relieve all suffering. Locally, an example of a pro-euthanasia advocate is medical doctor George Wong, 76, who wrote in to The Straits Times forum page last month arguing that euthanasia for the terminally ill should be allowed. He brought up the case of his late father who suffered from stomach cancer and pleaded repeatedly with his doctor to let him die comfortably and peacefully. His doctor refused. 'He was not harming anyone by his wish. Why should the law not allow it?' asked Dr Wong. Elsewhere in Britain, in September 2008, 23-year-old Daniel James, paralysed by a rugby injury, made the journey to Switzerland to kill himself after three suicide attempts had failed. His parents, who accompanied him, were investigated by the British police. Though suicide is not illegal under British law, aiding or abetting suicide is. 'I have had a good life. Now I want to have a good death.' Mr Donald Flounders, 78, is an Australian who had made a trip to Mexico in February to buy the drug pentobarbital for...
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