Sunday, July 10, 2016
Vietnam - Vietnamese woman seeks right to die; restarts euthanasia debate
Nguyen Thi Bach Tuyet visited the office of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper the other day with a letter, in which she penned how she wishes to settle her own death.
“If that day comes when I will get old and sick and grow unaware of my surroundings or become a vegetable, I hope the National Assembly will grant me the right to die,” Tuyet, a retired 63-year-old grade school teacher, wrote in the heartfelt letter.
Tuyet lives by herself in the small commune of Thuan Thanh, Can Giuoc District, Long An Province in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
Visiting Tuyet at her house in Thuan Thanh Commune, we were welcomed by a woman looking more optimistic and attached to life than someone who had been thinking about death.
“I was devastated when they diagnosed me in 1996 with a condition they said would severely affect my health,” Tuyet recalled her story, “I came home waiting for death to come. It baffles me that I still live to this day”.
The inferiority complex of carrying a sickness inside her body prevented Tuyet from tying the knot with anyone. She was afraid to hurt her loved one.
“But then I began to realize it would do me no good to just keep depressing myself over the fact, so I started taking part in social activities to lead a happier life,” Tuyet said.
Tuyet had been a grade school teacher until 1984, when she retired and set up a small stationery shop near her school.
Tuyet would offer her hand to every man in need, and even donated 1,000 square meters of land to build a kindergarten in her commune.
Leading such a full life as she did, Tuyet was always haunted by the thought of her getting old alone with no relative to stand on her bedside in her last days.
Tuyet finally stood up and voiced her demand for the ‘right to die’ during a meeting with local candidates running for seats in the 12th tenure of Vietnam’s lawmaking National Assembly (2007-2011).
Nguyen Anh Dung, chairman of Can Giuoc District People’s Committee, said Tuyet had since brought up the issue several times during meetings between voters and National Assembly members, taking example from her own experience.
Tuyet said with great pride that she had registered to be a body donor in 2009. “Then at least my body would be of some help,” Tuyet expressed.
A long way to go
Dr. Nguyen Huy Quang, director general at the legal affairs department under Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, was a vocal advocate of the recognition of the right to die in 2015, when the ‘right to die’ was proposed to be included in the revised Civil Code of Vietnam.
“In reality, those suffering from serious and painful conditions untreatable by current medical capabilities do wish to die a peaceful and painless death, and I think they should be allowed to,” Quang said.
Quang said in 2005 when the Civil Code of Vietnam was first drafted there were already opinions calling for the inclusion of the right to die as a basic right alongside the rights to live and to pursue happiness.
“However, the right to die was not viewed in favor of by the drafting team and the National Assembly at the time due to existing concerns about culture and humanity-related factors,” Quang explained.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Manh Hung, a professor at Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, asserted that there were not sufficient legal grounds at the moment for the recognition of the right to die in Vietnam.
Hung explained that in order to recognize such a right, lawmakers must also build a system of mechanisms to make sure that the right is appropriately exercised, as well as establish infrastructure to carry out the procedure.
“There is still a long way to go and a lot to do before the government can recognize the right to die,” Hung concluded.
Many sociology experts in Vietnam agree that the right to die is a real need of humans despite it being frowned upon by the majority of the community.
Tran Nam, a professor at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, attributed public objection towards the right to die to its contradiction with the right to live recognized in almost all constitutions.
In legal terms, Nam voiced his concern about how the right to die could be abused to carry out murders or forced euthanasia to claim benefits from the euthanized, such as insurance money or inheritance property.
On top of that, Nam said, signing the paper to allow the putting down of your own family members could be a haunting experience, especially in the case of Vietnam where moral values and familial bonds are highly respected.
Agreeing with Nam, lawyer Nguyen Thi Hong Lien, vice president of Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, said the will to live is reflected deeply in the way of life, tradition, and moral values of the Vietnamese people.
Lien said it would be extremely difficult and even haunting to have to cut off life support or perform lethal injection on the dying, even if it were for the their own good.
As of 2016, the right to die is recognized in the Colombia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada.
In these countries, a fully conscious and able patient is allowed to choose to stop their treatment and die.
Any form of suicide suggestion, prescription, or assistance by family members or medical workers, however, is strictly prohibited by law.
In cases of patients who are in a persistent vegetative state, the choice is in the hands of their family members.