• The right to die

    Efren Danao

    Efren Danao

    Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has two bills that I’m very enthusiastic about. The first seeks to institutionalize a long overdue Code of Conduct in the Senate. The second is what she calls the “Natural Death Act” but which I believe is more appropriately called the “Right to Die Act.”

    The latter measure, denominated as Senate Bill No. 1887, seeks to recognize the “fundamental right” of adult persons to decide their own health care, including the decision to have life-sustaining treatment withheld or withdrawn in instances of a terminal condition or permanent unconscious condition.

    Let’s hear it from Senator Miriam: “Modern medical technology has made possible the artificial prolongation of human life beyond natural limits. Such prolongation of the process of dying for persons with a terminal condition or permanent unconscious condition Mr. Lacson claims he and the Aquino administration are powerless against these bad people. He says the procurement law, which was passed to prevent corruption in public works and other government projects, gives swindler-contractors between 60 to 90 days to correct mistakes in their project costs. He would strike out that provision in the procurement law may cause loss of patient dignity, and unnecessary pain and suffering, while providing nothing medically necessary or beneficial to the patient.”

    I fully support the recognition of such a fundamental right of dying patients. My late mother also expressed a wish against prolonging her life should she suffer from a terminal sickness or from a vegetative state. My wife and I told our family of the same wish under similar circumstances. Prolonging the life of a dying person thru artificial means merely results in more expenses and extended agony for him or her and her family. I’ve seen some friends and relatives with cancer shrivel until they became almost unrecognizable. Each new day prolonged their agony and made them wish they’d die immediately.

    Many doctors and lawyers doubt the legality of removing life-sustaining equipment from a terminal patient. They fear that they might be violating their Hippocratic Oath and the law. Senator Miriam, however, argues that our laws should recognize the right of terminal patients or those suffering from irreversible comatose condition to stop prolonging their lives “in the interest of protecting individual autonomy and in recognition of the dignity and privacy which patients have a right to expect.”

    Her bill seeks to remove all doubts on the legality of honoring a terminal patient’s wish. It states: “Any physician or health care provider acting under the direction of a physician, or health facility and its personnel who participate in good faith in the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a qualified patient in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, shall be immune from legal liability, including civil, criminal, or professional conduct sanctions, unless otherwise negligent.”

    Since a wish against prolonging life thru artificial or mechanical means does not constitute suicide, it will not be considered as an impairment of an existing life insurance policy. His or her beneficiaries will still receive the benefits due them.

    I note that Senator Miriam’s bill provides the terminal patient a humane exit from this world. It stresses that a patient’s directive against prolonging his or her life thru artificial means doesn’t give license to physicians and nurses to withhold or unreasonably diminish pain medication for patients in a terminal condition “where the primary intent of providing such medication is to alleviate pain and maintain or increase the patient’s comfort.”

    Any adult person of sound mind could issue a written directive that he or she should be allowed to die naturally once he or she is diagnosed, also in writing, to be in a terminal condition by the attending physician, or in a permanent unconscious condition by two physicians, both of whom have personally examined him and where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the process of dying.

    The directive should be executed in the presence of two witnesses, neither of whom should be related to the declarer by blood or marriage and neither would be entitled to any portion of the estate of the declarer upon his or her death. The attending physician or any of his or her employees are also disqualified from acting as witnesses to the execution of the directive.

    A proposed Health Care directive in Senator Miriam’s bill states in part: “In the absence of my ability to give directions regarding the use of such life-sustaining treatment, it is my intention that this directive shall be honored by my family and physician(s) as the final expression of my legal right to refuse medical or surgical treatment and I accept the consequences of such refusal. If another person is appointed to make these decisions for me, whether through a durable power of attorney or otherwise, I request that the person be guided by this directive and any other clear expressions of my desires.”

    The directive will have no force or effect during the pregnancy of the person concerned. It may be revoked verbally or in writing at any time by the declarer, effective upon communication to the attending physician.



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