Death is often a topic that is rarely openly discussed in society. However, countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. So, are we behind the times in this country? Do we need to change our policies? And do we need to be more open and frank about the inevitability of death?
Welsh former teacher Gwenda Owen is petitioning the government to change their policies on euthanasia after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2017. Terminal illness is often one of the major factors resulting in euthanasia, as well as the patient not wanting to lose dignity or loss of function. For example, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in 2016 in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), pain was given as the reason for euthanasia in around half of the reported cases in Belgium in 2015. Loss of dignity was also given as a reason for 61 per cent of cases in the Netherlands, and 52 per cent of cases in Belgium over the same time frame.
Owen said, “I have a right to live. I have a right to choose not to live”. Owen is right: it should be down to the individual to choose and that the option should be available for everyone.
Passive euthanasia, whereby the patient can decline treatment and sustenance, is currently legal in the UK, even though this may lead to unpleasant symptoms such as prolonged pain and upset to both the patient and their family.
The practice is legal in Switzerland, with organisations such as Dignitas offering assistance to end patients’ lives. According to data released earlier this year, membership figures of Australian end-of-life organisation Exit International are strong, with the number now said to be 110,391, proving there is a demand for such services.
The debate is often around allowing doctors to prescribe lethal concoctions of medicine or just allowing the patient to die naturally. However, at the very least euthanasia should be an available option, whether that’s by a doctor prescribing the medication, or with the help of companies such as Dignitas. When we think of family members or loved ones experiencing horrific side effects – lack of motor skills, lying in comatose states, or suffering from terminal diseases – we surely wouldn’t want them to suffer in pain to prolong their life for our benefit? We would prefer to remember them when they were happy and healthy, and make their exit as pain-free as possible.
Ultimately, the big issue regarding euthanasia comes down to suffering and not wanting to see the people that you love or care about in any pain. They should be entitled to a choice on how they depart. After all, shouldn’t we listen to our loved ones and fulfil their final wishes?