Last week Spain, a pre-dominantly Catholic country, became the fourth country in Europe to legalise euthanasia. This new law is set to take effect next June and will allow adults with serious and incurable diseases to choose to end their own life. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter that this will allow for Spain to become a “country that is more humane, fairer and freer”. Spain will become the sixth country to legalise euthanasia, with New Zealand following suit next November.
Euthanasia can be defined as the intentional ending of the life of a person who is suffering and going through pain. It can be further subdivided into active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. In active euthanasia, a lethal substance is administered to the patient whereas in passive euthanasia, there is the withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment. Currently in Malta, only the latter is available.
In the recent years, the legalisation of euthanasia in Malta has been brought into the limelight, with a growing number of supporters, including many Maltese politicians. A 2016 survey conducted by MaltaToday revealed that 65% of persons between 18-34 agreed that terminally ill people should have the right to end their life while the same survey also showed that 53% of Maltese people agree with euthanasia under certain circumstances. The main argument for this campaign is that everyone should have a choice over their final days without the state’s interference.
Additionally, Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR) are already legal in Malta. In Do Not Resuscitate Orders, the patient has given written consent beforehand that if their life is in danger, medical staff are not to try and resuscitate them. These can be compared to passive euthanasia as the patient is not given life-saving treatment, in accordance with their wishes.
Medical ethicists, on the other hand, are against euthanasia. The Hippocratic Oath which is taken by every physician states that a doctor should preserve life ‘from conception until death’. Another argument against the legalisation of euthanasia is that palliative sedation is available, thus one does not need to die in pain. Palliative care can provide the dignity in death which pro-euthanasia campaigns are fighting for, anti-euthanasia campaigners say. The Medical Associaton of Malta (MAM) has stated that it is in fact against euthanasia and will continue to focus on palliative care.
Other campaigners against euthanasia are also concerned at the precendent that this might set. As of right now, only voluntary euthanasia is being discussed. Should this be legalised, can it extend to involuntary euthanasia such as in patients with dementia or other mental disabilities? These are all tough questions which need to be discussed.
Religion also plays a significant role in this debate on the island. Malta is still predominantly Catholic and the Constitution still lists Catholicism as being the official religion. Active euthanasia is strictly prohibited by the Catholic church however the withdrawal of treatment is accepted as this allows the organic death of a patient to continue.
An intimate decision such as this one should always be left in the hands of the individual. Just as we have the right to decide how to live our lives, we should also have the right to choose how to live out our final days. It is crucial that a mental assessment must be done on those who wish to be euthanized, to ensure that they are capable of making this decision and that there isn’t another way to ease their suffering. If left unregulated, euthanasia is just an easier method to commit suicide. It is also imminent that physicians are protected should they choose to assist euthanasia. Just as a doctor is supportive during life, a doctor should also be supportive during death.
As of this moment, there have been no comments from people who are suffering from conditions which could be considered as candidates for euthanasia. There also no talks in parliament about introducing or even starting a discussion on euthanasia. At a time in which the whole world is surrounded by death, it is a debate which should not be pushed aside. The foundation of our society is a democratic one and so an issue which is so personal and so inevitable should be decided by the general population and most importantly, by those who it will affect the most.
Feature photo from: Spain passes law allowing euthanasia – BBC News