One conversation with a Swiss friend of mine turned morose. She told me how someone she knew was suffering from a debilitating illness. Fully dependent on others to perform basic daily tasks, she even had to be assisted to breathe by a machine.
I felt for this woman, even though I didn’t know her from Adam. This individual was once an established professor, but now she found herself reduced to a mere veneer of what once was a fully-independent, successful human being. Our conversation ensued into a discussion of how dying in a dignified manner shouldn’t even be a question.
I’m never one to shy away from controversial subjects that move away from people’s conversational comfort zones (see the earlier essay on euthanasia), but because this issue has always weighed heavy on my heart. Would I allow the person I love to ‘live’ excruciatingly, because I’m clinging on to some god-forsaken prospect that they might recuperate? What if I do go ahead with an end-of-life option, only for there to eventually be a flicker of hope one day? Isn’t the word ‘euthanasia’ just a romanticised word for ‘assisted killing’?
This is but a snippet of the series of questions and thought processes many may have battled within themselves to find the right answer. And understandably so, because such a decision shouldn’t be taken casually. In Switzerland, lethal medicines may be prescribed to a Swiss person or foreigner, where the recipient takes an active role in the drug administration. The country has long been known for its top-notch healthcare system, with its 313 hospitals and state-of-the-art specialised facilities. Interestingly, article 115 of the Swiss penal code, written in 1918, came into effect in 1942, and considers assisting suicide a crime if and only if the motive is selfish.
As from last November, euthanasia became lawful in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg and Canada. Assisted suicide is also permissible in Germany, Japan, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Washington DC, and California. However, if you compare these countries with the rest of the world, where euthanasia still isn’t legalised, it displays how even the most liberal of nations are still trying to wrap their heads around the positives and negatives of this medical decision.
When it comes to the introduction of such a law in Malta, many tend to veer in the ‘for’ camp, but there are still many grey areas that have yet to be addressed. Whether through active participation, by administering the lethal drug or passively, by prescribing the lethal medication, the main concern is whether there’s this right to choose and if so, whether it should become legally binding in Malta.
It’s really hard to comprehend why people would even think euthanasia shouldn’t be considered a basic human right. Why should a person be left to turn into an unrecognizable state of being; one which is a meagre semblance of the person s/he once was? What life would that be? Certainly no life worth living, at least in my eyes.
At the end of the day, rather than being about whether we have the right to die – since we’re all going to cross that bridge one day – euthanasia is more about about the right to determine the how and when. This is especially true for situations where prolonging life can lead to agonising pain.
I’m of the school of thought that people should have the right to make their own choices when it comes to such matters. From advanced directives whereby one makes their wishes known prior to going in for major surgery to more complex, situations such as incapacitating, terminal illnesses. But perhaps the important underlying question we need to pose is: If people have a right to live in dignity, why shouldn’t they have a right to die in dignity?