Saturday, April 3
It was three years ago almost to the day that French public opinion was deeply divided over the trial of Dr. Laurence Tramois, a 35 year-old physician, who with the assistance of Nurse Chantal Chanel gave a lethal injection to the 65-year-old Paulette Druais, a terminally ill cancer patient. Dr Tramois said that she decided to resort to a lethal injection after Druais had told her that she did not want to die "in filth” and after Druais's family had backed her decision. However hospital managers had taken the pair to court as euthanasia is illegal in France. More than 2,000 health professionals signed a petition to support the doctor and the nurse, while they also called for the legalization of euthanasia. The court found the doctor guilty but gave her only a one-year suspended jail term while the nurse was acquitted. The debate over euthanasia still rages in France. They point to Belgium and Netherlands that have legalized euthanasia. Supporters demand the right to a dignified death. Opponents point to the sanctity of life. Supporters retort back by pointing to the abuse of the medical technology to prolong death. Opponents point to the potential of abuse. Supporters emphasize the safeguards that both Belgium and Netherlands have adopted. The Dutch Euthanasia Act states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the informed patient request it, if the suffering is unbearable and hopeless, if the alternatives have been explained to the patient and if the doctor reports the request to a review committee. Opponents point to the rise in the number of cases, that reached 2,500 in 2009.
The fervor of the division is such that one would believe that euthanasia is a recent social ethical dilemma. Not so. In ancient Greece and Rome, before the coming of Christianity, attitudes toward infanticide, euthanasia, and suicide were permissive. During the pre-medieval Christian era, medical ethics accepted euthanasia, while during the Middle Ages the Church tapered the practice off and treated any form of suicide or “self murder” as deeply sinful. In the 18th century, during Enlightenment, scholars attacked the church's authoritative teaching on all matters, including euthanasia and suicide, but the matter was treated with gross indifference. In the US, during the 19th century, when morphine was isolated, Samuel Williams, began to advocate the use of analgesics not only to alleviate terminal pain, but to intentionally terminate one’s life. In 1938, Charles Potter founded the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia and in the 1970s, the debate made it to the Senate floor, focusing on 'the brutal irony of medical miracles,' which prolonged the dying process only to diminish patient dignity and quality of life. In the 1990s, the US Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring hospitals that receive federal funds to tell patients that they have a right to demand or refuse treatment.
Fast forward to March 2010 and the debate resurfaces in the UK. Early in the year, Kay Gilderdale was cleared of attempted murder for helping her 31-year-old daughter, Lynn, to commit suicide following years of suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome ME. At the same time Frances Inglis, who killed her 22-year-old son by heroin injection believing he was left in a "living hell" after severe brain damage in a road accident, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of nine years in jail. The main difference between the two cases was that in the Gilderdale case the daughter’s wish was clearly demonstrated, while in the Inglis case, the son, being in a vegetative state, could not express any wish. Two months later, the famous author, Sir Terry Pratchett, called for the establishment of euthanasia tribunals to give sufferers from incurable diseases the right to medical help to end their lives. Sir Pratchett became an advocate after he was diagnosed with an early form of Alzheimer’s. "It is not nice and I do not wish to be there for the endgame… If granny walks up to the tribunal and bangs her walking stick on the table and says 'Look, I've really had enough, I hate this bloody disease, and I'd like to die thank you very much young man', I don't see why anyone should stand in her way… The tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant – and ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party.”
The newspapers smelled blood and ran their polls. In February 2010, of more than 1,000 people interviewed for BBC, 73% believed friends or relatives should be able to assist the suicide of a terminally ill loved one. A YouGov poll of 2,053 people for the Telegraph showed 80% saying that relatives should not be prosecuted, and 75% backing a change in the law.
Would you back such a measure?