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Filipino rights group calls for assisted suicide

On January 19, UCA News mentioned that a Philippine rights group has set itself on a possible collision course with the Church by calling for the introduction of assisted suicide. Dignidad Pilipinas (Dignity Philippines), a group of cancer patients and their families urged lawmakers on January 18 to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

“We are not even arguing if it’s moral or ethical. To do so is advancing one’s religious belief or morality. What we are advocating is to make it an option to those who want to avail it, after careful and deliberate study,” the group’s spokesman Richard Gesmundo told reporters. The group has been advocating for a “dignified” death wherein a patient can opt to give up on life rather than continue to suffer from a terminal disease.

What is the status quo in the Philippines? People who have cancer, particularly those who cannot afford cancer treatment, die in a despicable manner. Their hospital bills pile up while the patient suffers in pain,” Gesmundo added. The group said lawmakers should face the reality that the Philippine government could not afford a health insurance system that could sustain the treatment of cancer patients.

“Our government insurance system is not working and expenses for cancer treatment really drain family resources, that is if a family has sufficient resources. Otherwise, family members of cancer patients sink in debt,” Gesmundo said.

James Policarpio, a physician, however, said the group’s proposal was not feasible because it was contrary to the morals and public customs of the Filipino people. “Dignidad’s proposal is too ahead of its time. I will not even dwell on morality but I think the Filipino people are not yet ready to make such as law,” he told UCA News. Policarpio said Digdinad wanted physicians to violate the very oath [Hippocratic Oath] to protect the life of their patients. “By assisting them in curtailing their life, we violate this very principle,” he added.

The group’s advocates say the proposed legislation would protect doctors by resolving the ethical dilemma. “We see no violation especially if there is clear and valid consent from the patient. They [doctors] are basically fulfilling their patient’s intent, they do not have any liability,” Dignidad member Eric De Guia told UCA News. He said besides the health workers, the family and friends of the person who chooses assisted suicide will need to be protected from being ostracized in the Catholic nation.

“The Catholic Church is still a very strong institution in the Philippines and we know that the prelates will speak against this, and those who advocate this. Even our lawmakers should be prepared to be unpopular,” De Guia said. He said though that the proposal may still remain a dream what is important is that it is being laid down for discussion.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference called the proposal “nonsense” and “immoral” for contradicting Catholic Church teachings.

“Only God has the right to take away life that He has given. Life is His, only He can take it away,” Father Rico Ayo, executive secretary of the prelates’ Commission on Family and Life, told UCA News.