Legalising euthanasia 'may pressure weak'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am

Don't back path of no return, says quadriplegic

Legalising euthanasia may put pressure on ailing and handicapped people to choose death to avoid becoming a burden on society and their families, the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care and the Direction Association for the Handicapped say.

After quadriplegic Tang Siu-pun, better known as Ah Bun, repeated his call for legalised euthanasia last month, the two organisations hosted a forum yesterday at which they urged the government to put more resources into palliative services for the terminally ill and helping handicapped people lead as normal a life as possible.

The forum also follows the death on Friday of 107-year-old Leung Hau, who hanged herself. She had reportedly told her 87-year-old son, with whose family she shared a flat in Yau Ma Tei, that she wanted to die so that she would not be a burden to them.

The chairman of the Direction Association for the Handicapped, Sam Lee Yuan-tai, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident 24 years ago, said he was worried that legalising euthanasia might put pressure on the sick and handicapped to commit suicide, as they might be worried about becoming a burden to society and their families.

'The first moment when I woke up and found myself paralysed, I felt very helpless and lost all my hope for the future. There were only a few psychological and rehabilitative aids to help me,' Mr Lee said.

'Luckily, as I met other handicapped people and received more support from society in the later days, I walked out of my hard time and have regained a joyful life. I am grateful that I didn't die.' He said if euthanasia had been legal he might have chosen to die, which he thought would be a big mistake.

'It is so painful when you first learn that you have become paralysed,' he said.

'People may easily choose to have euthanasia despite the opposition of their families and friends. But society should not, based on sympathy, help people choose a path from which there is no return.'

Instead of legalising euthanasia, society ought to be more concerned about helping the handicapped lead a normal life. 'People should ask why Ah Bun did not get any support in hospital for years before he called for euthanasia,' Mr Lee said.

Amy Chow Yin-man, a Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care committee member, said the society strongly opposed euthanasia. She was worried that some people might simplify the concept of euthanasia and support its legalisation without much thought.

'It's natural that everybody would like to die with dignity. But euthanasia involves killing, which is a complicated moral issue,' Dr Chow said. She urged the government to put more resources into developing palliative care services.

Society of Palliative Medicine council member Doris Tse Man-wah said the city's development of palliative medicine had started later than in western countries and there were only about 20 specialists in palliative medicine in Hong Kong. She said more specialists in palliative medicine should be trained.

In 2003, Ah Bun sent a letter to then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa pleading for euthanasia after lying in a hospital bed for 13 years after a sports accident.