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Chantal Sebire, a 52-year-old former schoolteacher and mother of three, was refused the right to die by a French court last week. Ms Sebire suffered from a disfiguring and incurable facial tumour which caused her to lose the sense of smell, taste and finally her eyesight. Shortly after the court’s refusal, she committed suicide. Before she passed away she explained that children in the street would run away from her if they saw her coming. “One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured”, she said. How can we make someone like this suffer? Is this really acceptable? And why should we make a person and their family and friends suffer when there is a much easier alternative? It is also important to note that those that argue to preserve life despite the patient being terminally ill and in extreme pain are usually not the patients themselves and therefore don’t know what the person is experiencing. The current prohibitions in Australia require a person with great physical and/or mental suffering to continue to endure their suffering against their wishes, which certainly cannot be right. Ultimately not only does the person suffer, everyone around them suffers.
Earlier this year, a court in Ireland rejected Marie Fleming’s bid to commit suicide, despite multiple sclerosis (sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves) this reduced her life to “irreversible agony.” At the centre of this battle was her husband Tom, who was told he could face up to 14 years in prison if he assisted her in dying. In other words, Ireland’s highest court forced a woman to live in unimaginable physical agony while her husband had to watch the person he loves suffer daily. His only alternative was to help her relieve her pain and go to prison. Any sane person would realise that this is unconventionally cruel and inhumane, yet decisions like this happen all the time.
Furthermore, take the case of paralysed UK resident Paul Lamb. Last month, a judge ruled that any nurse or doctor who helps him take his own life will be prosecuted, despite him describing his life as a “living hell.” Or the case of Diane Pretty who in 2002 was told her husband would be prosecuted if he tried to help her avoid the horrible death she eventually had. Simply put, laws against assisted death cause suffering on an unprecedented scale, not just for the terminally ill but for their families as well.
Developed countries like the Netherlands have legalized euthanasia and have had solely minor problems from its legalization. Any law or system can be abused, however that law and system will invariably be refined to prevent such abuse from happening. In the same way, it is possible to properly and effectively regulate euthanasia as numerous first world countries have done. More so because the process of euthanasia itself as it is being argued here, needs competent consent from the patient. It is vital to think about the protection of both the physicians as well as the patients. The crucial component within the regulation of euthanasia will be determining the line between what is considered to be euthanasia and what is considered to be murder. Furthermore, around two-thirds of patients who apply to be euthanized are refused.
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