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Other options should be considered before euthanasia, experts tell parliamentary committee

Experts stress the importance of palliative care and spirituality, rather than euthanasia, in dealing with patients who have expressed the will to end their life due to a medical condition

yannick_pace
Yannick Pace
14 December 2016, 10:37pm
Experts have told the parliamentary committee discussing euthanasia that legislation should focus on palliative care, and not euthanasia
Experts have told the parliamentary committee discussing euthanasia that legislation should focus on palliative care, and not euthanasia
A joint parliamentary committee for social affairs, health and family affairs has been told by experts that legislators should not focus on euthanasia, but rather on other methods such as palliative care, when evaluating what can be done for people who wish to end their life due to their physical condition.

Professor Emmanuel Agius, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Malta, said that the preservation of life should be the primary objective in these discussions. He stressed that there was a difference between letting someone die and killing them and that the discussion should focus on palliative care.

“How can a doctor, who has taken an oath to safeguard the life of patients, be made to help a patient end his life because he has requested it,” said Agius.

He referred to a declaration by the European Council on the protection of rights of the terminally and dying and said that the declaration states that no person should be deprived of their life intentionally and that a person’s will to die does not legally mean they have the right to die at the hands of another person.

Agius also spoke of the role of spiritual care in helping people rediscover the value in life and the value in the relationships they have in their life.

Nadia Delicata, also from the Faculty of Theology, argued that legally allowing for assisted suicide might create a situation where people feel obliged to take their own life in order not to burden their loved ones.

Asked by Nationalist MP, what their position was on the case of Joe Magro - an ALS patient who earlier this year told the committee that without euthanasia he would have to resort to suicide - Agius said that there are others with the same condition who are more optimistic. He suggested that it would be beneficial to find out what is behind his desire to end his life and to find ways for him to change his mind.

“If Mr Magro is listening I would like him to discover the love for life and to find comfort zones such as spirituality or friends that can help one make sense of life,” said Aguis.

Professor Pierre Mallia, a doctor and bioethics researcher at the University of Malta, warned against taking reactionary steps. He said that in many cases, such as the recent debate surrounding the introduction of the morning-after pill, legislators feel pressured to do something simply becuase they are faced with a “particular situation.”

“Nobody should feel coerced into doing something because of a treat made by someone,” said Mallia.

Mallia said that other options, such as allowing a patient to refuse treatment, and the administration of drugs to reduce pain are different to euthanasia and should be the priority for doctors and legislators.  

He also stressed the importance of having a legal framework that protected doctors who take “morally correct” decisions.

“Some people decide to die at home. They do so without a drip, however in hospital everyone who dies has one. Doctors are afraid that if they were to remove it in the final hours, or if they were to increase a patient’s dose of morphine, they could be sued by relatives, despite the fact that morally they would have been right to make the patient more comfortable,” said Mallia.

He said that the right of patients to refuse care should be recognised and respected, however this does not constitute euthanasia.

Moreover, he argued that doctors must be able to tell relatives that a point has been reached in the care of their loved ones, where the they are no longer administering treatment, and have turned to making the patient comfortable.  

On whether euthanasia should be a right, Mallia said he would give a “consequentialist answer” and said that the consequence of people choosing to terminate their lives would be that certain vulnerable people might be pressured in deciding to die, or might decide to end their life because of guilt they felt in relation to their loved ones. 

yannick_pace
Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...