Should we deny patients the right to end suffering?

There is no doubt that euthanasia and assisted suicide are considered unethical by a vast majority of people, and are forbidden by law in most countries ("Euthanasia, assisted suicide run counter to medical ethics" by Mr Darius Lee; Tuesday).

Many would prefer it this way, but not to discuss them empathically is to deny the suffering of some of our patients.

Many a time, I have seen doctors walk away from dying patients suffering from severe pain and breathlessness in the final moment of their lives.

It is not that the doctors are not compassionate, but they feel hopeless about their ability to do anything, bound as they are by current medical ethics and laws.

Mr Lee talks about the right to life, but should we, because of our ethical or religious beliefs, deny someone the right to end their intolerable pain and suffering in a dignified death?

When death is just a matter of minutes or hours away, should we just let our patients suffer till nature takes its course, or should we help them out of their misery? Does "maintain due respect for life" in such a situation make any sense?

Mr Lee mentioned that doctors are expected to advocate for patients' care and well-being, and endeavour to ensure that patients suffer no harm.

Does putting patients out of their suffering in the final hours of their lives do any harm to them? Isn't doing so taking the patient's care and well-being into account?

We all have different religious and ethical values about life and death. Hence, we all must respect one another's beliefs.

As doctors, we are often told not to use our own value judgment to treat our patients, but to respect their values instead.

I sincerely hope doctors and society can do some soul searching and start seriously discussing the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide empathically.

Lee Woon Kwang (Dr)