A recent appeal from a severely disabled Tainan man for legalization of voluntary euthanasia has rekindled an issue that is seldom the center of public discourse.
Born in 1956, Tsai Ching-hsiung (蔡清雄) contracted polio when he was a child, causing the muscles of both his legs and his right arm to shrink. Despite his limitations, he has engaged in charity work for nearly 30 years in Tainan, earning him the nickname “the little disabled giant” around his neighborhood.
For more than two decades, Tsai has made regular visits with friends to nursing homes to chat and sing with the residents, and sometimes he helps out as the electrician, plumber or maintenance worker to help fix damaged facilities.
Photo: Wang Chun-chung, Taipei Times
He also takes the residents and others for picnics on his modified motor vehicle over weekends.
Tsai said on Sunday that he believes he survived his illness to do something meaningful. He does his best to live daily life using his left arm, the only limb that functions properly, so that his mother and other family members will not worry about his future.
In 1986, he decided to donate his body and organs to National Cheng Kung University’s College of Medicine after death.
As he often spends his time with disadvantaged people, many of Tsai’s friends are living in difficult circumstances, such as a friend in his 50s who cannot take care of himself and has relied on his parents. Tsai said that his friend’s parents are now in their 80s and have become too old to take care of him, and he has been having suicidal thoughts.
Tsai empathizes with his friends and hopes that Taiwan will legalize voluntary euthanasia so that he and others have a choice to live or die without becoming a burden to their family, society or the nation.
“People want to live meaningful lives and die with dignity. Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage, so the government should show the same sense of progress to consider legalizing euthanasia,” he said.
Six lawmakers from the Tainan region spoke on the issue, expressing a range of opinions.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lai Hui-yuan (賴惠員) said legalizing euthanasia concerns many moral and ethical principles, and cannot be decided in a black-and-white way.
She said Taiwan has the Hospice Palliative Care Act (安寧緩和醫療條例) and the Patient Right to Autonomy Act (病人自主權利法), which allow some forms of euthanasia.
“There is no consensus on ‘proactive’ euthanasia. The autonomy and value of a life is difficult to debate in normal circumstances. Moral, ethical and religious beliefs make the discussion even more complicated,” she said.
DPP Legislator Kuo Kuo-wen (郭國文) said Taiwanese need to discuss the issue more to reach a consensus among the affected parties, or else a bill to legalize euthanasia could be seen as “a murderous law.”
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said northern European countries legalized euthanasia after providing the public with sufficient social services so that governments would not be held accountable for failing to protect the disadvantaged.
However, Taiwan does not have the socioeconomic conditions to enact such services, which opens up a wider debate among healthcare practitioners, she said.
DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said legalizing euthanasia is not only a choice between life and death, but a tug-of-war between the wants of close friends and relatives and the affected person’s physical pain and despair.
The affection shared between patients and their families, their legal rights, the standards by which a decision is made to end a life, and the right to make that decision are all issues that comprise the debate Taiwanese society, he said.
DPP Legislator Lin I-chin (林宜瑾) said the issue is not a simple yes-or-no question, involving discussions of morality, the role of the law, human rights, medical ethics and other values.
The Hospice Palliative Care Act and the Patient Right to Autonomy Act could provide a framework for discussion, she added.
Seeking a consensus on this issue is a long road, DPP Legislator Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said.
The government and society should embrace the topic and start conversations on the role of euthanasia in society, and how it might be worked into law, he said.
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