In 2011, I met Carol (real name withheld). Carol was two years off retirement. On discussion about retirement in general, Carol told me in a matter-of-fact way, that she had ten years worth of retirement funds, and she planned to have ten years of fun – doing all the things that she enjoyed and had not had the time to do, during her working life. Once that came to an end, she planned to go on a hunger strike. She has no family. She would not tell her friends. In essence, she had worked out that she could end her life within a 30-day period, without hurting anyone close to her. She said “It’s my life, and my choice”.
I was shocked to the core – I get it, and I don’t. On deep thought and analysis, one has to agree that freedom of choice is the hallmark of human identity, but to go to these lengths?
Carol’s case is not, strictly speaking, Euthanasia, which means “good death”, and refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering. Some may argue that Carol’s life could suffer because of the lack of retirement funds.
Euthanasia is one of the most active areas of research in contemporary bioethics. There are three different categories of Euthanasia – voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia is legal in some countries. Non-voluntary euthanasia is illegal all over the world. Involuntary euthanasia is normally considered to be murder.
Euthanasia is currently illegal in this country as it is in most countries around the world.
Most of us are probably familiar with the case of Professor Sean Davison in New Zealand who assisted his terminally-ill mother in ending her life, following her desperate pleas after a long battle with cancer. He was sentenced to 5 months house arrest in New Zealand, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of assisted suicide.
Professor Davison has recently returned to South Africa and he and some colleagues have launched Dignity SA, which “supports the right of the individual to self-autonomy in end-of-life decisions but recognizes that we must do so within the wider structures of family and society. Dignity SA seeks solutions to issues surrounding end-of-life care, solutions that will offer South Africans clear and real choices in an environment that ensures social responsibility and accountability”.
Dignity SA has launched an online petition in order to give South Africans the opportunity to show their support for a law change in order to legalise assisted dying in precisely defined conditions.
There are so many elements to the debate – spiritual, moral, legal and philosophical.
Supporters believe that terminally ill people have the right to end their suffering with a quick, dignified and compassionate death.
Opponents of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide believe that doctors have a moral responsibility to keep their patients alive – and argue that active mercy killing is unacceptable.
We ask our readers the core question that is difficult to answer objectively: Should euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide be made legal?