Voluntary euthanasia: Legal anomalies, contradictions

LETTER

It is legal for a patient to refuse medical treatment or to request withdrawal of medical treatment, even in the knowledge that this will hasten death. A medical practitioner commits assault if he/she disregards the patient’s wishes. The law thus explicitly acknowledges the right to “ownership” of one’s life.

That said, it is legal for families or other guardians to refuse further treatment or to request withdrawal of medical treatment on patients’ behalf if they cannot speak for themselves. In such cases family members are legally allowed to terminate the life of a person without that person’s explicit approval.

Moreover, it is legal for a doctor to administer pain-killing medication (e.g. morphine) in quantities sufficient to hasten a patient’s death, provided this is done with the relief of suffering uppermost in the doctor’s mind. This clearly gives a doctor the legal right to end the life of a patient without reference to the patient or family, since what is “uppermost in the doctor’s mind” is known only to the doctor, and there is no means of knowing whether the doctor truthfully states what is in his/her mind.

This means that in certain circumstances (to use the language of “right-to-life”), the law gives a doctor the right to kill a patient without the patient’s permission.

Yet it is not legal for a doctor to hasten a patient’s death by consultation with the patient, not even upon the explicit, repeated request of the patient and no matter how great the degree of suffering.

It’s fair to say that a law which allows a doctor to bring a patient’s life to an end without the patient’s permission, but illegal to do so with permission, is deeply anomalous. Or to put it bluntly, barking mad.

Martin Hanson, Nelson

It is legal for a patient to refuse medical treatment or to request withdrawal of medical treatment, even in the knowledge that this will hasten death. A medical practitioner commits assault if he/she disregards the patient’s wishes. The law thus explicitly acknowledges the right to “ownership” of one’s life.

That said, it is legal for families or other guardians to refuse further treatment or to request withdrawal of medical treatment on patients’ behalf if they cannot speak for themselves. In such cases family members are legally allowed to terminate the life of a person without that person’s explicit approval.

Moreover, it is legal for a doctor to administer pain-killing medication (e.g. morphine) in quantities sufficient to hasten a patient’s death, provided this is done with the relief of suffering uppermost in the doctor’s mind. This clearly gives a doctor the legal right to end the life of a patient without reference to the patient or family, since what is “uppermost in the doctor’s mind” is known only to the doctor, and there is no means of knowing whether the doctor truthfully states what is in his/her mind.

This means that in certain circumstances (to use the language of “right-to-life”), the law gives a doctor the right to kill a patient without the patient’s permission.

Yet it is not legal for a doctor to hasten a patient’s death by consultation with the patient, not even upon the explicit, repeated request of the patient and no matter how great the degree of suffering.

It’s fair to say that a law which allows a doctor to bring a patient’s life to an end without the patient’s permission, but illegal to do so with permission, is deeply anomalous. Or to put it bluntly, barking mad.

Martin Hanson, Nelson

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