The Right To Die?

What do you do when a loved one faces prolonged suffering after all treatment options have been exhausted? What should we do when he pleads to us to help him end his sufferings? Do we continue to allow him suffer the physical and psychological pain until he passes on naturally? Or do we help him fulfil his wish?

The patient does not suffer the pain alone. It takes its toll on his family and those close to him, too. What can be more distressing than seeing a loved one who had always been active and healthy deteriorate to a state where his every need has to be taken care of? What can we do when the pain eats into his very heart and we have to wait for another three hours for his next dose of pain killers?

I am greatly disturbed after reading about the paralysed man in Hong Kong (reported here and here) who pleaded for the right to die. Being a quadriplegic myself, I can partially relate to the torment that he has to go through day after day. Unlike him, I can look after myself to a certain extent. However, he is totally paralysed, needs everything to be done for him, and breathes with the help of a machine. In addition to that, chronic and acute disabilities like this put a great mental and financial strain on his family as well.

“I lie in bed 24 hours a day,” the man wrote by tapping on a computer keyboard with his chopsticks. “I need other people’s help to eat, urinate, clean my body, turn around and sleep. I am a total invalid and a financial and mental burden to my family.”

The Strait Times, 21 April, 2003.

The question is do we help him execute his desire or do we deny him his appeals to end this torment? My faith disallows euthanasia but I have my own personal opinions regarding this issue. My views on this may be flawed and could still be based on my experiences and beliefs before I converted. Nevertheless, euthanasia is against the law in most countries. If so, how then can we improve on the quality of life of people like him who have already given up hope and looking forward to be delivered from their sufferings? Palliative care alone is truly not sufficient.

The BBC contains comprehensive information on euthanasia and the views of the major world religions here.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Minion to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. Columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. Principal Trainer at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

15 thoughts on “The Right To Die?”

  1. Personally I say that when God gave us the right to choose…even our own lives is included into that choice. It’s hypocritical to say that we have a choice in every matters when we haven’t had a choice to choose our own life and death.

    I don’t know about paralysis though. To me choosing to end your life because you’re going to die anyway and you have to endure all sorts of unbearable pain on that way out is a logical decision. Maybe I draw the line at paralysis…unless the pain itself is affecting others (e.g. Monetary). I mean…take Christopher Reaves, he’s got money. He is a quadriplegic right? But I doubt he would have any problems there trying to adapt to his life.

    For the rest of the population…those that are not monetarily sound. Maybe the line can be eased there.

    How you choose to live and die is our own choice. Sometimes its better to go out with some dignity rather than loose all of it waiting for the end.

  2. Edrei,
    The law here strictly prohibits euthanasia. So we are not given a choice on how we want to die no matter how dignified a way we want to leave this world.

    Ponder over this: If you choose to commit suicide and die, you have to answer to God. If you fail in the attempt, you have the law to contend with.

  3. this paralysed man in Hong Kong should be allowed to end his sufferings.

    i personally do no wish to live in such condition and burden my family & relatives in anyway.

    perhaps, all those decision makers and anti euthanasia supporters ought volunteer FULL TIME to care for people like him for a period of at least 6 mths to a year within the same constrains faced by other such care-givers.

    after going thru that experience first hand, we get their opinions again…

  4. Pro-euthanasia,
    This sensitive issue will see no end to it. The pro-lifers and pro-choicers all have their own point of view to put forth. Religion, politics, medical ethics and public opinion all have to be taken into account. This is one issue the legislators have to tread carefully. While the debate rages on, the man continues to deliberate over whether he has a choice to determine his own life and death.

  5. The choice here I state is not a written one…it’s the one which all human beings have. It’s the choice that comes with free will.

    I can understand your statement about God, that’s also why I have my own stand on euthanasia. Because I say that we cannot presume what God thinks (even though religion says so), we have only this world to be responsible for.

    If ever I want to choose to ask someone to end my own life, I have to ask myself, is this the most responsible thing to do? Does it benefit not just me…but the people around me in the long term?

    Taking ones own life is noeasy decision. But it its still your own decision. Free will…the right to choose your own destiny in life. No matter where and when, how or why. That’s what it should be about.

  6. Edrei,
    The Hong Kong man does not have the ability to end his own life which is why he is pleading to the legislators to legalise euthanasia.

    For Catholics, the Fifth Commandment clearly states that “You shall not kill” which includes other people and oneself. There is no presumption for Christians in this aspect. I believe other mainstream religions have the same view. Of course, if you do not prescribe to any of these faiths, your view on the sanctity of life can be very different.

  7. Thou shalt not kill: ARGGHHH! confused, i wud try comprehend the man’s wish again then.
    “thou shalt not end”? pardon me if im wrong. The man wants someone to end his suffering and his life, err not asking ppl to kill him or commit suicide for that matter. Even if it means getting someone to kill him or commiting suicide, it is to achieve the end result (ie to end his suffering and those around him) u dig me?

    reminds me of one of me goldfishes, theres one that hath serious bladder probs and floated and got fungus on the dry part due to it, and then it has dropsy, a kind of uncurable disease. tho i hath the economic capability, tho all the other fishes starts to peck at im. it hurts me, and wat i do, i search the net for the most humane way to “euthanasia” im. so there i go freeze it, for im will feel least pain and bury im. felt relieved and easier to breathe after that ordeal, it not such a bad thing afterall…err i not inviting comments on this paragr. jus my opinion eh..

    when u travel, the destination pales compare to the journey. If i cant walk, cant i be on the plane, to get there swifter?

    This is too tot provoking, eh peter, post something easier on thee mind next time willya?

  8. Beng99,
    However you see it, it is still illegal if the law of the country does not allow euthanasia. Does not helping him end his own life make you the perpetrator? In the eyes of the law, goldfishes do not get the same level of consideration as humans. You can kill a goldfish without falling foul of the law. Try ending another human’s life and see what happens. If things were so simple, will you end his life for him?

  9. i think theres no clear right or wrong in this. No clear black or white, maybe thats why our brain is called the “grey matter”
    cheers

  10. o gawd! what happened to my comment?? (and long comment too). i thought i did make a comment this afternoon. oh now i remember the PC hang so i guess the comment didn’t get through. ayoh. now must do repeat exercise. here goes…

    peter, i did not come in earlier to comment as this post of yours touched me a lot. you see, i have a uncle who is like this man… a total invalid… but worst… my uncle is in a coma. i do not wish to say more here (publicly) but i can tell you more when we ‘meet’ in icq (which btw, past few days i did not get on icq).

    quote from pro euthanasia: “perhaps, all those decision makers and anti euthanasia supporters ought volunteer FULL TIME to care for people like him for a period of at least 6 mths to a year within the same constrains faced by other such care-givers.
    after going thru that experience first hand, we get their opinions again…”

    you haven’t heard of hospice? those hospice volunteers to care for dying people and they never complain.

    yes, peter, our catholic faith says euthanasia is wrong but sometimes i feel… sorry to say this … one can’t really follow your religion’s teaching right to the T. basically yes euthanasia is wrong but to me i would say it depends on the situation.

    if the person is totally independant and… this is very important – it is his own wish – that his life be ended, i see no reason why we should not heed his request. after all as edrei said each individual has the right to choose.

    anyway i do agree with beng too that there is really no right or wrong answer to this kind of situation.

  11. Lucia,
    Thank you for taking the trouble to rewrite the comment that did not get posted. I can understand how frustrating that can be. I have lost a few this way too.

    I was faced with the same situation when Mum went into a coma. I was torn between the yearning to keep her by any means and the anguish of letting her go to end her suffering. I shall not elaborate on that anymore here as I have touched on that in some of my entries. All I can say is that whatever the decision, pro or against, the pain will be extremely agonizing both ways.

    Up to today, I am still reeling from the trauma subsequent to the choice that I made for Mum. We can sit here and debate on euthanasia to no end but when we are intimately involved with the realisation that one precious life hinges on how we decide, the line becomes blurry. Religious beliefs aside, this is what the lawmakers are facing. Until the day we have a cure for all diseases and injuries, this is will continue to be a controversial issue with no immediate solution.

  12. I agree with you Peter on many of your thoughts

    Put religion aside ,the topic is interesting .
    I recall yrs ago watching a debate on 60 min
    in regard to euthanasia.
    I myself believe ppl should be able to pass on
    with dignity,but yet i could never assist anyone
    anyone with it.

    Peter
    I believe there ia a lot of contravercy with the
    topic.You know the fact that some ppls health my improve and they could lead a better life ect.

    I will share with you this,
    Years ago my brother was involved in a accident
    which left him a paraplegic.

    During his time in hospital ,we were told to pray
    that he lives “not that he can walk again”.

    Anyway after many months of being at the hospital.
    I met many quadriplegics and spent time with them,while my bro was undergoing treatment.

    Some wanted to die ,some still had faith,some
    just cried as they had no one to be there with
    them.

    After many months my bro came home,and surely
    it affected everyones life.
    So many adjustments for him,but i recall the lates
    talking with him.During his darkest hours and him
    asking me.”Why did you pray for me to live?
    My reply was i couldn’t imagine losing you,living
    without you.
    He replied well i wish everyone had prayed that i died,cause i he didn’t want to be here.
    How selflish did i feel,i knew he’d lost the world
    he knew .I also knew he wouldn’t want to be here,yeah i felt heaps selfish.

    But now yrs later
    His married has children
    Is teaching IT ,coaching basketball ect.

    Some of the ppl we met in hospital still stay in
    touch .Most have married and continue to strive
    achieve their goals.
    tcz

  13. Sweetspirit,
    Just imagine if your brother had his wish fulfilled when he was lying in the hospital bed, how much he would have lost out on, and how much less colouful our lives would have been.

  14. Peter

    I’m glad he found his way through it .Also i like to tell you ,ya site is great.

    I truely enjoyed reading your poetry ,your a inspiration ,very talented indeed.
    tcz

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