Mihkel Mooste: Dignified death and undignified suffering

Mihkel Mooste.
Mihkel Mooste. Source: Private collection

A recent criminal investigation into assisted suicide as a service shows that there are people in our society who see assisted suicide as a last resort and are willing to pay for it, Mihkel Mooste writes.

Assisted suicide is a way of leaving this world where a person is knowingly given a regulated way to end their life. Unlike in the case of euthanasia, the decision comes from the person and not their next of kin or medical staff. It is clear that the future of assisted suicide in Estonia needs both a public debate and a decision of whether and how to legalize it.

Every human life needs to be valued based on moral principles, values and personal experiences. The proponents of assisted suicide point out how it can help end suffering, make things easier on loved ones and free up financial and medical resources for patients with a more optimistic prognosis.

Its opponents claim the practice does not value human life and often point to religious and ethical points that have been made against it.

But it remains a fact that the topic has surfaced time and again over the past decade, which is why we need a public debate. There is a great divide between older and younger people in this matter, also in terms of whether a debate is believed to be necessary.

Estonia registered 193 suicides last year, which is four times the number of annual traffic or fire deaths, for example. This figure very likely hides 193 different reasons and stories.

The first thing we need to do as a society is realize that we must not condemn these people. The same goes for assisted suicide. If a person has decided to take their own life and has well-founded reason to, the possibility could be offered by law.

What could cause a person to want to end their life with assistance from others? Being chained to a bed for years, pain, bedsores and other forms of suffering are facts of life for many. Assisted suicide is most often the option of elderly people with chronic conditions whom medicine gives no chance of recovery. That is why they decide to leave with dignity to ease their own suffering and the burden of loved ones. The decision also affects dozens of other people who suffer as onlookers.

The Estonian media has in the past written about euthanasia tourism, with Switzerland, where assisted suicide was legalized in the middle of the previous century, often given as an example. It now turns out there are people among us who have made the decision for themselves and looked for solutions here in Estonia. However, to avoid the emergence of so-called euthanasia clinics operating in a legislative gray area, we need clear decisions of how to proceed. The coalition agreement tells us that relevant debates might be launched next fall.

Decisions need social acceptance and agreement. Before political decisions or amendments, society needs a broad-based debate that involves doctors, politicians and representatives of churches. It is important to listen to different generations, elderly people as well as 27-year-olds like yours truly, as concepts can differ.

We must agree as a society when it is humane to give up palliative treatment if recovery is impossible and the patient wishes to end their suffering. And we need the debate now to prevent the appearance of new self-declared euthanizers.

(Last Friday, August 18, the South District Prosecutor's Office handed suspicions of illegal economic activity to Paul Tammert who advertised plans to start offering an assisted suicide service in Estonia back in May and has so far helped two people take their own life. While it is illegal to take a life in Estonia even if the person wishes it, assisting someone in taking their own life falls into a legislative gray area. – ed.)


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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