Doctors stand up for ‘right to die’ rules

BANGKOK POST Issued date 14 July 2011

APIRADEE TREERUTKUARKUL

A group of senior doctors and legal experts has criticised the Medical Council of Thailand over its intention to seek an Administrative Court ruling on the recently enacted health regulation o the right to die.

Speaking during a panel discussion o the topic “The Right to Die: Justice Alternatives for Patients?” held by the Thai Journalists Association and the Isra Institute, Vithoon Eungprabhanth, legal adviser at Thammasat University’s Health Laws and Ethics Centre, yesterday said the council’s action could misinterpret the concept and the principle of the National Health Act.

The council will today put the issue up for deliberation of whether a court ruling on how the law might affect a physician’s ability to practise medicine for the terminally ill is needed.

Dr Vithoon, also a member of a drafting panel on the National Health Act and health regulations, said the regulation was meant to support the concept of the law and enable medical professionals to work.

It was disappointing that there was a movement to mistranslate the law.

Under the “right to die” clause in Section 12 of the National Health Act, patients can now notify their doctor in advance if they do not want to receive further treatment that may extend their lives.

A living will must be signed before witnesses and close relatives. As part of the process, a doctor is required to provide a thorough recommendation for those patients of their health condition.

Sant Hattirat, Thai Association of Emergency Medicine president, called on council members to halt their action and focus on monitoring medical malpractice and professional ethics.

“The council is making the doctorpatient conflict worse by working on things that it is not supposed to do,”said Dr Sant, also a retired doctor at Ramathibodi Hospital.

Somphon Trakulroong, a freelance lawyer, said the council was too concerned with details of the health regulation although it was designed to give doctors immunity in diagnosing the “end stage of life” mentioned in the law.

“Doctors should not be worried too much about the law. Otherwise they should become lawyers, not doctors treating patients,” he said.

However, he recommended the National Health Assembly listen to the council’s concerns and seek agreement for a definition of the “end stage of life”.

It could include an additional clause in health regulations on the right to die, rather than scrapping the law and drafting a new one.

Methee Wongsirisuwan, assistant to the council secretary-general, said that the council did not object to the right to die. But it disagreed with the details that the doctor was obliged to “pull the plug” on a patient.

“This law simply pushes the burden of pulling the plug on to doctors. It is unacceptable that we have to get involved in ending a patient’s life both directly and indirectly,” he said.

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