We should like to add some comments to those of Professor Pierre Mallia (Independent, 31 October). We welcome and support his call for better end-of-life and palliative care, and for established processes, and clear guidelines and training, for all medical professionals on how and when to withdraw various treatments when there is no reason to prolong life.
However, we would go a step further. Future developments and improvements in such care would not, in our view, obviate the urgent need now for a right to assisted dying, whether euthanasia or assisted suicide, for the few who would choose it. Of course many would prefer to receive excellent and appropriate care towards the end of their days, and to die under that care rather than act, or expect others to act, to end their lives.
In an earlier article (15 August 2021), Professor Mallia commented that ‘We don’t really need euthanasia for 95-98% of cases in hospital’, which suggests that there is a small percentage for whom it would be an option. And account must anyway be taken of the views of those who have a positive wish that their body should not be kept functioning when they are without independence, quality of life, and hope.
As Humanists, we recognise the value of life, but believe that the quality of that life, and a person’s bodily autonomy, is paramount. One argument against granting this right is that it would start a ‘slippery slope’, leading to pressure to end a vulnerable life before the person concerned would choose. We have seen little evidence of this in jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal. But there is evidence, in many documented cases, that there are those who prefer to make their own decisions about how, and when, they end their suffering, and die.
Therefore, in addition to Professor Mallia’s call for improvements in end-of-life care, and in advance of a legal structure for assisted dying in Malta, we would hope to see a number of interim actions: i) to ensure that advice is legally available on assisted dying outside of Malta; ii) the establishment of bilateral agreements with relevant countries to enable Maltese residents to make use of euthanasia clinics abroad; and iii) legislation to regulate and enforce living wills, based on existing laws in other European countries.
Edward Gatt, Sliema
Joanna Onions, Xaghra
Committee members of the Malta Humanist Association