Sun, Dec 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

No clear obstacles to assisted death

By Shei Ser-Min 謝世民

Do people have the right to end their own lives? This question gets right to the core of whether the case brought by Fu Da-jen (傅達仁) is worth getting behind.

If one believes that people do, indeed, have the right to end their own lives, then the question of whether assisted suicide should be legalized depends on whether the regulatory framework required for the proper implementation of this right would be feasible and whether the social cost would be within the bounds of what society can tolerate.

We could perhaps approach the question from the experience of Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, where cases in which the right to die has been abused — for example, where a patient who had chosen assisted suicide was not fully in command of their mental faculties at the time, had not prepared advance directives requesting assisted death on behalf of their future self, or whose condition was still potentially curable — are few and far between, and the social costs are low.

Given that, if we determine that people should have the right to assisted suicide, the legalization of euthanasia is certainly something that we in Taiwan should give some thought to.

Generally, mainstream, established religions take a rather dim view of assisted suicide. The individual, within the cosmological view of these mainstream religions, has a very low status.

If the teachings espoused by these religions are correct, then people do not actually have this right and, this being the case, they cannot give permission to others to end their own life and there is no path to the legalization of assisted suicide.

That said, in the secular world, within free, democratic societies, where of course the religious faith of individuals must be respected on the level of constitutional government, an unavoidable question for citizens remains: Do people truly — independent of religious teachings — not have the right to end their own lives?

A landmark ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 said that an individual has the right to make use of a third party’s help in dying.

The reasoning the court gave was as follows: To deny this right might lead to people prematurely taking their own life, “often by violent or dangerous means,” as they might be worried that their condition would deteriorate to such a degree that one day they might be unable to end their own life and that a third party, too, would be powerless to give them the assistance they needed to end their own life.

In this case, they may be “condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering” until such time as they die from natural causes.

In the eyes of the Supreme Court judges, palliative care at a hospice, even when administered properly, could not fully prevent such circumstances from arising and palliative care has its own inherent limitations.

In this theoretical scenario, the Supreme Court of Canada was essentially asserting that the right to death derives from the right to life: If the law results in a situation in which people are forced to resort to “violent and dangerous means” to end their own lives prematurely, then it is in itself in violation of the right to life.

Irrespective of whether one agrees with this theoretical scenario, Taiwan actually does accept that an individual has the right to have a third party assist them in ending their own life.

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