New HK research questions euthanasia theories

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2005, 12:00am

Amid a spate of murder-suicide pacts in the city, groundbreaking research will be released next week arguing that such incidents go beyond euthanasia and have to be approached differently.

One of the authors, Philip Beh Swan-lip, associate professor in forensic pathology at the University of Hong Kong, said murder-suicide pacts were a worldwide phenomenon but there were differences between western literature and what was being seen in Hong Kong.

'In western developed countries, they tend to involve elderly and reasonably well-off people. Perhaps you see more of the sort of case there that would make you think of euthanasia and end-of-life decisions,' Dr Beh said.

But in Hong Kong, the reasons behind murder-suicides have been varied.

'You have financial reasons, the obviously domestic violence background, probably psychiatric background and in some cases a mixture of these and others, such as alienated families,' he said.

It was time to bring together government departments, NGOs and stakeholders to address the issue.

Criminal lawyer Kevin Steel, who was not involved in the study commissioned by the Social Welfare Department, said assisted suicide would amount to murder because the perpetrator intended to kill.

'I suspect that Hong Kong juries would have compassion with such defendants but even if the intention was humanitarian, it is still murder,' he said. Even if there were documented proof that the person killed had asked to be killed, this would be no defence, Mr Steel said.

'You can claim diminished responsibility but then you risk ending up in a mental institution,' he said.

Legislation on euthanasia was bound to be controversial and complex, not just legally but from a religious standpoint, he said.

'But this is not a straightforward legal matter ... the whole thing could still be very complex and convoluted where you may get a family who is split over the fate of a loved one or because of the religious beliefs of the doctor or the hospital,' he said.