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Doctor backs euthanasia proposal

Update: November, 15/2013 - 10:06

Dinh Ngoc Sy, president of the Viet Nam Association against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, talked to Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper about the possibility of euthanasia being legalised in Viet Nam

The Ministry of Health is proposing including euthanasia in the draft Law on Population Ordinance. What do you think about this?

Euthanasia has always been a controversial issue. On the humanitarian side, no one would ever wish for the death of a family member, even a humane death.

However, in my opinion, it still should be brought into law in Viet Nam, but should only be permitted in cases where both the patient and their family see eye-to-eye on it.

If a cancer patient, for example, who is going through endless pain with absolutely no chance of recovery, can capably decide to request an assisted suicide then we should support him.

After all, patients possess the right to hold their lives in their own hands.

Nevertheless, it will be a more complicated story if the patient is in a deep coma and someone else (most likely their family members) has to choose between life and death for them. It has never been an easy choice for anyone. Any parents would struggle to let their children die in front of their own eyes.

According to lawmakers, it needs not only the patient's and their family's agreement, but also a medical committee to make the decision. How do you think this committee will work?

Though I don't know yet what kind of committee it will be, I believe someone has to be responsible for the decision, in this case that person will likely be the head of the committee. That person must determine whether the patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness and ultimately will become a heavy financial burden on his family.

Have you yourself ever met any patient who refused treatment?

I specialise in treating tuberculosis (TB) and lung diseases, which can be cured, though can be fatal in the late stage of TB cases. Any TB type can be cured completely if diagnosed soon enough; although treatment success rates are quite low.

Late stage cases are common among the elderly. They normally think coughing, a symptom of TB, is just any normal cough which isn't worth checking at the hospital, or in some cases they are simply unable to go by themselves.

Not until the disease becomes too serious do they find out about it and then they lose the will to fight. There have also been some TB patients infected with HIV who have refused treatment.

How about the number of patients dying during treatment?

Until now, there have been no recorded deaths from TB during treatment, because it is very difficult to determine whether the cause of death is actually TB or another illness.

Infections such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and AIDS can all be exacerbated by TB. However, according to statistics I have read, there are about 3,000 deaths a year during treatment for TB, but often the death is caused by something other than TB bacteria.

If patients who refused treatment or were aware of death during treatment (having burst broken blood vessels due to strong coughing, for example) asked for euthanasia and wanted you to be the head of the medical committee, would you do it?

No, truly no. Being a doctor, I always bear in mind the belief that where there is life, there is hope. Furthermore, as I have stated above, TB is a curable disease unlike some others. For that reason, I would never dare to grant anyone euthanasia. — VNS

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