This week I was shocked to read a BBC news article about the euthanasia of a 44 year old Belgian transsexual, who was so unhappy with his sex change that he wanted to die. Two doctors made the necessary decisions that he was within his rights to choose euthanasia, saying: ‘Patients must be capable of deciding for themselves. They must be conscious and have to give a “voluntary, considered and repeated” request to die.’
Nathan Verhelst was legally killed on September 30th. I wonder if he might have felt differently in a few months, if he had had more counselling and psychological help.
One of the things I found particularly shocking about this case was that it didn’t make the headlines. In Belgium, euthanasia is not very controversial and MPs there are even now deciding whether to lower the age limit to make euthanasia available to under-eighteens. You can read more about that in The Independent news article here.
I believe that this could be the start of a very slippery slope. Can a child make the decision whether it is better for them to live or die? Do the child’s parents have the right to decide to kill their child, even if it is for humane reasons?
It is questions like these which make me glad that euthanasia is illegal in this country. I feel especially strongly about it, having visited the death camps at Auschwitz, where euthanasia was taken to horrifying extremes.
Since the Harold Shipman case, there are now much better regulations in place to ensure that doctors can’t kill their patients, and doctors have to be revalidated every 5 years to ensure they are doing the best for their patients.
As a doctor, I would always want to do the best for my patients without causing them harm. However, I know that I shall have to make some difficult ethical decisions, such as whether or not to withdraw treatment for a terminally ill patient (Extraordinary medical care), or whether to give a drug to relieve pain, knowing that it might cause the patient to die sooner (the Doctrine of Double Effect).
You can find out more on this BBC ethics website which sets out the arguments for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide really clearly.