I ask my young son the question to urge him to avoid recklessness, heed caution and guard his life – look before crossing the road; don’t stand behind stationary vehicles because the driver may not be aware that you’re there; don’t play with fire; and the list goes on…
The question is now asked as a matter of intellectual and public debate, as the topic of euthanasia makes headline news. I took an elective course on this while at university – (ahem…) some years ago. Although equally contentious then, it was at least clearly an issue of morals and ethics.
Today, it’s all about personal autonomy – the right of an individual to choose what he or she wants. This must, I think, be the curse of modernization. When medical science is limited, resources are underdeveloped and people are fighting for mere survival, no one even thinks of the possibility to legalize suicide.
The bottom-line: Let’s help those who want to die, die.
In my opinion, that’s what it is. It’s even termed “assisted suicide”.
Whether it should be…
- determined beforehand while one is still “legally competent” (e.g., through an Advanced Medical Directive);
- an expected service of healthcare professionals (“assisted dying”) or loving gesture of family members (e.g., through a “living will” or a “Power of Attorney”);
- done through an act of commission (active euthanasia) and not just omission (passive euthanasia, e.g., physician-assisted suicide);
- intentional and deliberated without any change of mind (possibly leading to involuntary euthanasia) or subject to situational variables that allow a patient to revoke his dying wishes (voluntary euthanasia);
… these are just the technicalities.
The Right to Live – and to Die?
It’s one thing to assert the human right to live; it’s uncannily strange to insist on the right to die. In a similar vein, have you noticed how your spirit quickens when you hear of a person who has cheated Death – such as the recent testimony of Suzanne Chin (“I Have Been Blessed with a Second Chance”, The Straits Times, Mar 24, 2013) – or fought a good fight for his/her life albeit unsuccessfully? We celebrate martyrs who live – and die – for a cause. In contrast, there’s nothing very noble about a person who simply wishes to die and gives in to Death.
I’ll leave the legalities to our Chief Justice, Sundaresh Menon, who wrote a good piece about the various arguments and theories involved, and the very “slippery slope” concerning this issue. (“Assisted Dying: A matter of life and death”, The Straits Times, Mar 24, 2013). For the man/woman on the street, it boils down to that timeless question we all face one day: What is the purpose of life?
Life – and Death – Matters.
For those of us who believe in a higher-order Creator who brought the universe into being, the sanctity of human life is undisputed. If we did not have the liberty to dictate our birth, why do we now think we can “play God” and self-determine our death?
I will unabashedly admit that more than death itself, I fear pain – and the agony inflicted on your loved ones who have to witness your suffering but are helpless to do anything. Thus I pray that when my time comes to leave the earth, it will be swift and straightforward. But that does not mean I want to decide when that “time” would be.
Life is complicated enough without unnecessarily complicating life-and-death matters. Instead of focusing the debate on how to die “well” (which is as subjective as living “well”), we should focus our energies on how to adequately provide available means of care and improved pain relief – so that no one would ever have to feel the need to consider an early death.