I was relieved when in 2018 MPs in Finland rejected a draft bill to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide by a vote of 128 to 60. Instead, the Parliament preferred to support the Social Affairs and Health Committee’s recommendation to create a working group to improve palliative care. The Christian Democrats have worked really hard to prevent the legalization of euthanasia, which for the doctor means a duty to kill the patient.
The working group has agreed that before discussing the regulatory needs of euthanasia, the current situation of palliative care must be mapped out and shortcomings rectified. According to one of its reports, care to relieve symptoms and terminal care must be available from care units to specialized medical care. The recommendation emphasizes that the implementation of care that provides relief from symptoms is one of the basic skills of every social and health care professional.
Euthanasia is forbidden by criminal law in Finland. Assisting suicide is not a crime in Finland, but it is contrary to medical ethics. Euthanasia always involves the doctor killing their patient, usually by injecting poison into their body. Euthanasia is permitted under certain conditions in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg. A patient may receive assistance from a doctor in committing suicide in a few states in the USA and in Switzerland.
The Hippocratic oath taken by us physicians says: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” The World Medical Association has consistently and categorically refused to accept the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide as a justifiable medical activity. Legalizing euthanasia would severely alter the health care culture and a doctor’s job description. International human rights agreements recognize a person’s right to live, not the right to die. International law does not know the concept of “right to die”.
Every year 13 000 Finns need expert palliative and hospice care in the final stages of their lives. We can offer the dying person a good life right to the end by using the means available in hospice care, such as effective treatment of pain. It may include specialist treatment, for example, palliative sedation, if it is not possible to treat suffering by other means. Patient autonomy never means that patients can decide how a doctor should treat them.
Discussion about euthanasia raises major and timeless questions about death, the value of life, and human rights. Death itself is a boundary that we are not able to evaluate. A dignified death should mean effective palliative care, alleviating symptoms, and good hospice care, but killing a person is never a dignified action. Finland is able to provide a high standard of care for every dying person, maintaining their dignity, if we just decide together to do so and improve our palliative care.
Member of Parliament, medical doctor
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
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