The final curtain

Given that a recent study on Maltese self-identity  concluded that native Maltese tend to favour ‘…full assimilation with the European mainstream…’, it might be of some interest to readers to know what is happening in Europe and elsewhere as regards EoL issues.

I must admit that the fact that struck me most reading James Debono’s article on euthanasia, based on Jurgen Abela’s ‘GPs and End of Life (EoL) Decisions: Views and Experiences’ article in the Malta Medical Journal, is that very nearly one in five (17.7%) of Malta’s family doctors did not identify Catholicism as their religion but that is not what I want to write about today.

As Abela points out in his article, Malta is clearly a small country but it is also clear that its ‘strong traditional roots’ have not been an obstacle to the introduction of a variety of civil rights, including divorce in 2011 and civil unions and adoptions by gay couples in 2014.

Given that Gordon Sammut, in his recent study on Maltese self-identity as reported by Teodor Reljic in the 16 August, 2015 issue of MaltaToday, has concluded that native Maltese tend to favour ‘…full assimilation with the European mainstream…’, it might be of some interest to readers to know what is happening in Europe and elsewhere as regards EoL issues.

In a report entitled ‘Campaigns to let doctors help the suffering and terminally ill to die are gathering momentum across the West’, The Economist recently indicated that an Ipsos Mori poll it commissioned, which enquired with people in 15 countries whether doctors should be allowed to prescribe lethal medication for some patients who are close to death or suffering greatly, found that in all countries polled – except Poland and Russia – majorities were in favour of such a course of action.

This was particularly so in Belgium, France and the Netherlands but other countries such as Spain, Germany, Britain and Italy were hot on their heels, although in most places the medical establishment remains opposed to laws on doctor-assisted dying.

Determining to put an end to one’s life is, if you will excuse the pun, the ultimate choice, but in the final analysis it is just another choice, although perhaps the most agonising one, of the many that confront us throughout our lives and I feel that each individual should be at liberty to make this choice if circumstances so dictate.

Readers are probably not familiar with the names Edward Downes, Annie Bus, Ramón Fernández Durán, Nan Maitland, Peter Smedley, Geraldine McClelland, and Ramón Sampedro; they were all ordinary people who chose not to lengthen their lives and their suffering unnecessarily and who decided instead to seek a dignified exit.

I have been collecting these stories for some years now because they have struck me as brave people whose behaviour is worthy of emulation. All have in common that they have had to spend years fighting for the right to die or have had to die away from their family and loved ones because the particular jurisdiction within which they happened to live did not accept their right to choose.

In contrast to the people I made mention of earlier, the name Cliff Richard is probably a household name to many. In declarations the well-known pop singer made in 2011, four years after his mother Dorothy had died at the age of 87 after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s, he spoke of a pact he had made with his sister in the event that he or she were to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but hoped that euthanasia would have become legal by the time they had to face the situation, if ever.  

In the late 1990s, when the divorce debate was still in its infancy, I accepted to participate in popular TV programmes such as Xarabank and also wrote in the press to express my opinion in favour of the right to choose with whom we live our lives.

It would have seemed fanciful at that time to even imagine that within 15 years, divorce, civil unions and adoptions by gay couples would be on the statute books. But time and again ordinary Maltese citizens have shown themselves to be ahead of their representatives in their willingness to adapt to the evolving circumstances of their own lives and I believe that the time has come to seriously start debating the difficult but pressing EoL decisions topic.