Czech Republic Parliament Will Debate Measure to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 29, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Czech Republic Parliament Will Debate Measure to Legalize Assisted Suicide

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 29
, 2008

Prague, Czech Republic ( — The parliament of the Czech Republic is set to debate a measure that could have the eastern European nation follow its western counterparts in legalizing assisted suicide. Currently the practice is only allowed in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

Backers of the law have put together a 19-paragraph document spelling out the terms under which a doctor can aide a patient in death.

Under the proposal, a physician would have to ask a patient on three separate occasions whether he wanted help in taking his life, the Aktuálne newspaper says.

"A dignified death can only be had on the basis of a request for help or can be chosen by a patient only in a situation when his health condition is hopeless and when he is in a condition of permanent physical or psychological pain, which is the result of contingent or long-term and incurable illness," the bill reads.

The assisted suicide request must be given in writing by a patient who has been declared mentally competent and must be notarized.

The document then goes into the patient’s health records four weeks after the request and the assisted suicide request can be withdrawn any time.

Sponsors of the measure include a number of liberal lawmakers and they are also preparing a nationwide petition campaign to urge Czech residents to ask their MPs to support the bill.

The bill also allows physicians to opt out of involvement with the assisted suicide request and every case must include a second doctor’s signing off on the suicide before it can occur.

Senator Václava Domšová put forward the first assisted suicide bill, the newspaper indicated, but the Civic Democratic Party said it went further than it was prepared to support by promoting direct euthanasia.

Though backers of the assisted suicide bill say the practice is already occurring in the Czech Republic, Human Rights Minister Džamila Stehlíková is against it, the newspaper reported.

"The only acceptable solution to the position of the severely ill and dying is not the choice between suffering and death at the hands of a doctor, but a lessening of suffering and the provision of a helping hand. The dying and severely ill need quality, accessible care and not legalized euthanasia, which contradicts the spirit of a doctor’s profession," said Stehlíková.

American bioethics attorney and author Wesley J. Smith commented on the bill.

He said he’s concerned that the guidelines proposed under the bill will eventually become meaningless.

"We have seen repeatedly how such guidelines don’t hold, but are merely meant to give the illusion of control," he explained.

"Moreover, an ‘incurable’ condition can be almost anything and everything that is not a transitory condition," he said. "Arthritis can be ‘long-term’ and ‘incurable.’ So can diabetes, spinal cord injury, asymptomatic AIDS that terrifies the patient about the future, etc."

He said the assisted suicide bill comes at the expense of putting time and money into better care for the elderly, disabled and others who might be pressured to kill themselves.

"The euthanasia movement is international and is not really about helping those for whom nothing can be done to alleviate end-of-life suffering," he said.

"It is an ideological quest at its heart, extolling radical individualism over what may be best for society as a whole. But that wouldn’t sell to a wary public, and so the emphasis on terminal illness and suffering that cannot be relieved," he concludes.


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