Labour ‘will not shelve’ euthanasia

Although Labour denies it will propose euthanasia in its electoral programme, the controversial issue ‘will not be shelved’

ALS sufferer Joe Magro has kickstarted a debate on assisted suicide for the terminally ill
ALS sufferer Joe Magro has kickstarted a debate on assisted suicide for the terminally ill

The Labour Party has denied that it will be proposing the legalisation of euthanasia in its electoral programme but said the issue would not be put on the backburner.

ALS sufferer Joe Magro, who has been actively campaigning for the introduction of euthanasia, told MaltaToday that senior ministers told him that if no wide consensus is reached in this legislature, then euthanasia would be included in Labour’s electoral programme. 

Magro will be meeting Labour’s parliamentary group on 11 August after the party accepted his request. 

Asked whether a vote on the matter will be taken within the parliamentary group, a party spokesperson said “the issue is not in the government’s programme and is frankly one of conscience.”

However, the spokesperson added that although the issue was not brought up by Labour MPs, it “will not be shelved by MPs.”

Yet, the party has neither denied nor confirmed whether a law will be proposed in parliament. 

The debate on euthanasia intensified following an interview carried by MaltaToday with Magro in February.  

Calling for the introduction of euthanasia he said: “I will live as long as I can but once it gets to a point where I cannot live life in dignity I will commit suicide.” 

Magro was diagnosed a year ago with ALS, the deadly neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, and has since been unable to perform routine tasks such as shaving or writing. 

Last week, Magro’s wife launched an online petition in which she is calling on legislators to introduce euthanasia.

“Both myself and our children, as well as other family members of ours, understand Joe, because no one would like to end up in a similar situation,” Marlene Magro wrote in the petition. “If [Joe commits suicide], I will have a hard time living with the knowledge that he could have lived longer with everyone around him and that his death would have taken place in dignity and within his family setting. 

“With the introduction of a law on assisted death, Joe will be able to live peacefully for a while longer.” 

Over 1,200 signatures have been collected in a matter of days and former Labour prime minister and current MEP Alfred Sant has also supported the call. 

A MaltaToday survey carried out in March showed that 53% of the general population agrees with euthanasia, in cases involving people suffering pain from a terminal illness.

A separate study conducted in 2013 among Maltese doctors found that over 90% of doctors say they are against euthanasia but 50% agree with hastening death by intensifying analgesia. 

Interestingly, 11.9% of the 356 doctors polled by researchers said they had received a request for euthanasia from patients.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Gozo bishop Mario Grech said on Monday that euthanasia could never be in a person’s best interest.

“The autonomy enjoyed by every human being is not absolute or unlimited. The protection of human life, in particular when this is helpless and vulnerable, is an ethical and legal principle that goes beyond the principle of autonomy,” they said. 

In reaction, Magro said “I am happy the Catholic Church has reacted because they keep the debate alive.”  

While underlining the Church’s “right and duty” to speak out about moral issues, Magro said the Church “should not impose its beliefs on the rest of the country. It would do a great disservice to the country if the Church once again wages a war as it did, to its own detriment, in the divorce referendum. Introducing euthanasia would give people like me the option to choose a dignified death.”