Should Vietnam allow euthanasia?

April 15, 2024 | 04:40 pm PT
Ha Duc Tri Businessman
Twenty years ago, my father-in-law suffered a stroke while watching television. He was rushed to hospital and began to spend days in a deep coma, his brain already dead. His frail life was prolonged only by a respirator.

During the days he lay in the hospital, the entire family was anxious and worried. Each day, each hour passed excruciatingly slowly.

When a sister in the family visited and saw blood occasionally oozing from the corner of his mouth, she felt intense pity for the [slowly, painfully] dying man.

She talked to other siblings about asking the doctor for an intervention so that he could pass away more peacefully. Everyone was confused and hesitant about her intention.

I told my siblings that such a request would not be accepted by any doctor. The law does not allow it.

Eventually, my father-in-law passed away naturally – his heartbeat stopped.

I recall this story as Tung, a lawyer friend of mine, told me about French President Emmanuel Macron recently introducing a bill regarding the right to die. The bill allows for medically assisted death to help those facing terminal illness at the end of their life avoid physical and mental torment.

Euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the right to die were all topics that Tung and I were very interested in and spent a lot of time researching while we were in law school.

To date, only a few countries in Europe like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, and some states in the U.S. allow their citizens to exercise the right to die under certain conditions. If Macron's bill is passed by the Parliament next month, France will be the next country in the not-so-long list of nations worldwide to legalize the right to die for its citizens.

Currently, if French patients want to exercise their right to die peacefully and legitimately, they can only travel to the aforementioned countries in Europe.

Vietnam is among the majority of countries that have not legalized the right to die.

Issues regarding euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the right to die were also brought up for discussion on the agenda during National Assembly sessions over the 2004-2005 period. However, the number of delegates who supported the measures was not enough to pass proposals that would have included the right to die in the draft civil code at that time. Most delegates believed that these issues were too new and sensitive, and not aligned with Vietnamese culture and moral values.

This view remained unchanged at later parliamentary forums, even when the Constitution was amended in 2013, and when the new Civil Code was passed in 2015. In daily life, debates on whether or not to accept the right to die for citizens are still ongoing among medical and legal experts – these have lasted many years.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Vietnam ranks among the countries with a high incidence of terminal illnesses, especially cancer. In 2023, the mortality rate from cancer in Vietnam was 73.5%, compared to the global rate of 59.7%, and 67.9% in developing countries. Every year, Vietnam records 200,000 new cases, with the death toll reaching 82,000 cases.

Cancer is also one of the most painful diseases for humans, according to many doctors.

Two of my friends passed away from cancer a few years ago while still in their middle age. They were truly courageous people, full of perseverance, having fought the disease for many years. However, the devastating disease gradually eroded their bodies and spirits, even as they were in their most robust years with many aspirations unfulfilled. The extreme and persistent pain that my friends had to endure in the final stages of the disease made their families feel incredibly saddened.

In moments of despair, the relatives of these friends said they wished there were a way to free their loved ones from the agony in a crumbling body.

Could this escape be possible by law? I wonder.

The line between sin and humanity is still too thin, especially in sensitive matters like death. The law gives people the right to be born and the right to pursue happiness, but has yet to allow them the right to end their lives when they can no longer bear with their physical and mental pain.

After all, at the end of one's life, true happiness is to be able to pass away painlessly and peacefully.

*Ha Duc Tri is a business director at Willis Towers Watson Vietnam (WTW).

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