Televised assisted suicide reopens euthanasia debate

danish-flagDebate has raged in Denmark following the Sunday broadcast by TV2 of the story of Kaj Guldbech, a cancer sufferer who chose to end his life after living with an incurable case of pancreatic cancer.

Guldbech had travelled to a Swiss suicide centre as assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. Guldbech had previously made repeated calls in Denmark for help in ending his life as his final months drew to a close, including one plea on TV2 just three weeks ago.

Guldbech’s case has re-opened long standing debate over euthanasia, which has, in the past, been outlawed on ethical grounds. Danish proponents of assisted suicide claim that the individual should not have to travel abroad for the treatment. There have also been renewed calls for repealing legislation which prevents the terminally ill from being able to have such assistance.

Addressing the cameras for the last time Guldbech made comparisons between animal welfare and assisted suicide law claiming: “If I treated my animals like we treat humans and just let them suffer, I’d be found guilty of animal abuse and neglect and wouldn’t able to own animals anymore,” the Copenhagen Post reports.

The television broadcast of Guldbech’s final day was from the Dignitas clinic in Forch and showed the patient being sedated before requesting the life-ending medication. He then bade the cameras a tearful goodbye before the filming moved to his coffin leaving the clinic. His death was not shown.

Supporters of the right to suicide assistance have argued that prohibitive costs – Guldbech spent an estimated DKK 80,000 for the treatment – along with the right to die in familiar surroundings were reason enough to reconsider the laws. Euthanasia is currently punishable as manslaughter in Denmark. The government’s Ethical Council has said that existing legislation is sufficient to ensure that appropriate care is provided for the chronically ill.

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