Euthanasia, assisted suicide run counter to medical ethics

IN HIS letter, Dr Lee Woon Kwang wrote about how he was prevented by the law from euthanising a child who was terminally ill with cancer, even when her parents begged him to "help ease her pain or end her suffering" ("Don't let laws bind doctors' hands in relieving suffering"; Forum Online, last Saturday).

He says: "The Hippocratic Oath says I should ease the suffering of my patient and yet, due to the constraints of the law, I could not carry out my duty."

But euthanasia and assisted suicide are contrary to both medical ethics and the law.

The right to life is an inherent right protected by various international human rights instruments, as well as the Singapore Constitution.

Laws against the killing of patients vindicate and protect the right to life, including and especially the rights of those who are terminally ill or vulnerable.

Under the Singapore Medical Council ethical code and guidelines, physicians pledge to "maintain due respect for human life". Doctors are expected to advocate for patients' care and well-being, and endeavour to ensure that patients suffer no harm.

During the debates on the Advance Medical Directive in 1996, the National Medical Ethics Committee took the position that euthanasia was wrong and the committee did not condone it under any circumstance.

Both euthanasia and assisted suicide violate the "do no harm" principle embodied in the Hippocratic Oath.

In some versions of the oath, doctors explicitly vow: "I will not give anyone deadly poison, even when asked."

In fact, these principles of medical ethics apply even where national laws sometimes may not.

For example, in a 2013 resolution, the World Medical Association strongly encouraged all national medical associations and physicians to "refrain from participating in euthanasia", "even if national law allows it or decriminalises it under certain conditions".

As society progresses, we should strive to build a compassionate and caring society that respects the intrinsic worth and dignity of all human life.

We should not confuse the noble goal of eliminating suffering with the unethical act of eliminating the sufferer.

Darius Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Euthanasia, assisted suicide run counter to medical ethics'. Print Edition | Subscribe