Spiritual dimension of dying so important

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 12:00am

I refer to the ongoing debate on euthanasia.

The Guardianship Board was established as an independent statutory body by the Mental Health Ordinance (Cap. 136) in February 1999. We have jurisdiction to make guardianship orders for mentally incapacitated adults, including elderly persons suffering from dementia or stroke.

The appointed guardian has the power to consent to the medical treatment of the mentally incapacitated adult.

The Guardianship Board has a statutory duty to promote the interests of mentally incapacitated adults in performing its functions. We take this duty seriously and vigorously promote those interests independently and without fear or favour. This includes overriding the interests of family members or of professionals where it decides that these interests conflict with the promotion of the mentally incapacitated adult's interests.

I do not wish to engage in the debate on euthanasia or that misnomer 'passive euthanasia'.

The media have a duty to report this debate accurately and sensitively so that the public, particularly those with chronic illnesses in their elder years, are not scared away from receiving treatment because they wrongfully think that doctors support euthanasia, that is, the unlawful killing of a person.

However, this debate deserves a holistic, multi-disciplinary perspective that embraces the spiritual dimension of death and dying. It goes way beyond the views of just the medical profession and reflects our deepest values and spiritual beliefs.

If we are not motivated purely by compassion, our spiritual values and beliefs to see the intrinsic value of each human being, no matter that they may be severely demented, or have lost their power of speech, or their ability to communicate their views and values, the danger is that decisions to withdraw treatment will be made from a purely economic perspective of saving hospital expenses and beds. If this debate leads to a better promotion of palliative care for the terminally ill, which does recognise the spiritual dimension, this is most welcome.

It would be shameful if mentally incapacitated adults suffered discrimination from doctors or family members making decisions whether or not to withdraw life-sustaining treatment when they are terminally ill. Overseas hospitals may employ bio-ethicists whose duty is to act as advocates for the patient to ensure that all his interests, including his spiritual interests, are promoted and respected over and above the interests of the administrators, economists, doctors or the family members.

Does Hong Kong need independent advocates to promote the holistic interests of the terminally ill, especially for those suffering from a mental disability? In the meantime, the Guardianship Board will monitor this debate and ensure that the voices of those adults who are mentally incapacitated are heard and promoted.

PAULA SCULLY Chairperson Guardianship Board