Reading room > Ars moriendi?

1 Nov 2004

Ars moriendi?

The debate in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe on the topic of “Euthanasia” goes into its second round.

In April 2004, the plenary session of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe was due to vote on a report by the Swiss Liberal, Dick Marty. The report had been accepted with a narrow majority in the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee. Within the report, it called for doctors who practiced “euthanasia” to be granted legal immunity under certain circumstances. But these conclusions were clearly criticised in a report by the Legal Committee. The British Labour rapporteur, Kevin McNamara, warned of the considerable dangers that can arise from the abuse of such practices. He argued that some 3,800 cases of “euthanasia” had recorded in the Netherlands in 2001, but that in some 900 cases the patients wishes had not been consulted, or asked.
The plenary session referred the case back to the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee due to the significant differences in content. The Committee now has until 27 April 2005 to present a revised report to the plenary session. In a session of the Social Committee, which was very poorly attended considering the seriousness of the issue, Herr Marty was confirmed as rapporteur and in October a new preliminary draft report was presented as a basis for discussion. The topic will probably be discussed in the next two sessions of the committee on 15 November and 17 December in Paris.

“Death Assistance”
The report has been given a new title “in the interests of as objective and emotionless debate as possible”. Instead of “euthanasia”, it now reads “death assistance” in the English and French translation. Interestingly, the reason given for this is the dark overtones associated with the word “euthanasia” primarily from the field of veterinary medicine. The German word “death assistance” is considered preferable.

The new report should promote first of all the creation of terminal care hospices, specially trained care providers and the possibility of care at home. In addition, it will recommend the development of ethical guidelines for doctors to avoid “overtreatment” which is designed to keep patients alive at any price.
At the same time, the governments of the member states are to be encouraged to consider the possibility of granting immunity to doctors or other people in cases where a patient wishes to be killed. “Death assistance” should apparently also be provided for patients who are no longer able to state their agreement. The “presumed will” of the patients will be determined through written statements by the patient or through a “therapy representative” where the patient can no longer express themselves clearly.

The question of the extent to which this practice will lead to frequent killings without the will of the person involved, will clearly not be discussed. Nor will they explore the extent to which it promotes an attitude that professes the possibility of being able to judge the value of human life.
If this debate is to truly be informed and all encompassing, then there should be a discussion concerning the actual consequences which would be involved should there be a legalisation of “euthanasia”– in addition to the fundamental ethical and religious objections. We should discuss the pressure that has the potential to be exerted on patients who wish to live, contrary to the opinions of the doctors and/or their families who do not consider their lives to be worth living, where they would have to justify and force their will to live.
We should also discuss our society’s treatment of sickness and death, and our handling of the medical possibilities for the artificial preservation of human life through over treatment. What are we doing to support people who are often left inhumanly to die alone? How does the ars morendi look today?

This article was published in the November 2004 issue of Europe Infos, a publication of COMECE and appears by kind permission

Katharina Schauer