Don't let laws bind doctors' hands in relieving suffering

I AGREE with Dr George Wong Seow Choon that it is about time we openly discussed the issue of death, and I empathise with him on the prolonged suffering of his father before his death ("Time to talk about new laws on dying"; Friday).

I had a very unpleasant experience once with a child who was terminally ill with cancer. All medical treatments had failed and she was admitted to the hospital in her final days, at the request of her parents.

In her final hours, she was gasping for breath, as she suffered from the massive bleeding in her lungs.

Her family begged me to help ease her pain or end her suffering. I knew what I could do to end her suffering but the law, as it stands, would not allow me to do so.

I felt totally helpless as a doctor. 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.

It was certainly a very unpleasant and frustrating experience.

On the other hand, I once saw a man on TV suffering from an untreatable and debilitating degenerative condition.

After much discussion with his wife and children, he decided to end his life through assisted euthanasia.

A date was chosen and the man was admitted to hospital. After saying his final goodbyes to his wife, he took the medication given to him and slowly fell into a deep sleep and never woke up again.

He was like the flame of a candle, slowing flickering away, until he was no more.

His wife was with him all the while and the whole atmosphere was so serene. It was the most dignified death I had ever seen in my medical career.

Euthanasia is a very emotional subject. However, not discussing it will deny some patients a peaceful and dignified death. Society needs to confront the subject with passion and humanity.

Lee Woon Kwang (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe