FEATURE: Euthanasia, a marginalized subject in Taiwan

MATTER OF DIGNITY:
Moral, ethical and religious beliefs surrounding a person’s right to end suffering through death make legalizing it difficult to discuss, lawmaker says

  • By Wang Chun-chung / Staff Reporter

A recent call by a severely disabled Tainan man for the legalization of voluntary euthanasia has rekindled an issue that is rarely at the center of public discourse.

Born in 1956, Tsai Ching-hsiung (蔡清雄) contracted poliomyelitis as a child, causing the muscles in his legs and right arm to contract. Despite his limitations, he has been involved in charity work for nearly 30 years in Tainan, earning him the nickname “little handicapped giant” in his neighborhood.

For more than two decades, Tsai has made regular visits with friends to nursing homes to chat and sing with residents, and sometimes he helps out as an electrician, plumber, or maintenance worker to help fix things. damaged facilities.

Photo: Wang Chun-chung, Taipei Times

He also takes residents and others out for picnics on his modified motor vehicle on weekends.

Tsai said Sunday he believed he had survived his illness to do something meaningful. He does his best to live day to day by using his left arm, the only functioning limb, so that his mother and other family members don’t worry about his future.

In 1986, he decided to donate his body and organs to National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine after his death.

Since he often spends his time with disadvantaged people, many of Tsai’s friends live in difficult circumstances, such as a friend in his 50s who cannot take care of himself and has leaned on his parents. Tsai said his friend’s parents were now in their 80s and had grown too old to care for him, and he had suicidal thoughts.

Tsai sympathizes with his friends and hopes Taiwan will legalize voluntary euthanasia so that he and others have the choice to live or die without becoming a burden on their family, society or nation.

“People want to live meaningful lives and die with dignity. Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage, so the government should show the same sense of progress to consider legalizing euthanasia,” he said.

Six lawmakers from the Tainan region spoke on the issue, expressing a range of opinions.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lai Hui-yuan (賴惠員) said legalizing euthanasia involves many moral and ethical principles and cannot be decided in black and white.

She said Taiwan has the Palliative Care Law (安寧緩和醫療條例) and the Patients’ Right to Autonomy Law (病人自主權利法), which allow certain forms of euthanasia.

“There is no consensus on ‘proactive’ euthanasia. Autonomy and the value of a life are difficult to debate under normal circumstances. Moral, ethical and religious beliefs make the discussion even more complicated,” she said.

DPP lawmaker Kuo Kuo-wen (郭國文) said Taiwanese need to discuss the issue more to reach a consensus among the parties involved, otherwise a bill to legalize euthanasia could be seen as “a murderous law”.

DPP lawmaker Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said northern European countries legalized euthanasia after providing the public with sufficient social services so that governments would not be held accountable for failing to protect people. disadvantaged.

However, Taiwan lacks the socio-economic conditions to set up such services, which opens up a wider debate among medical professionals, she said.

DPP lawmaker Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said legalizing euthanasia is not just a choice between life and death, but a tussle between the desires of close friends and parents and the physical pain and despair of the person concerned.

The affection shared between patients and their families, their legal rights, the norms by which a decision is made to end a life and the right to make that decision are all issues that make up the debate in Taiwanese society, a he declared.

DPP lawmaker Lin I-chin (林宜瑾) said the issue is not a simple yes or no question, involving discussions of morality, role of law, human rights , medical ethics and other values.

The Palliative Care Act and the Patient Autonomy Act could provide a framework for discussion, she added.

Finding consensus on this issue is a long road, said DPP lawmaker Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲).

Government and society should embrace the subject and start conversations about the role of euthanasia in society and how it could be incorporated into law, he said.

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