Thai Catholics and Buddhists debate biological will and right to life

by Weena Kowitwanij, Asia News, Aug 22, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand -- A constitutional revision on laws governing the end of life is being drafted in the country. The right to set limits to therapies must not undermine the supreme value of human dignity. A Buddhist monk’s call to accept "pain and sickness”; a Catholic priest stresses the importance of "spiritual care ".

"The day before his death, I went to the seaside with my son. On the way home, he laid his head on my shoulder and told me 'Mom, I am so happy today'. The next day he died in my arms". This is how a mother describes the death of her 10 year old child, who had long suffered with leukaemia to AsiaNews. "I still remember - adds Rangsima Boonyabhum - his last words ... 'Bye ... Mom'."

In Thailand the issues of biological wills and end of life rights are being debated at conference organized by the National Committee for Healthcare. During the meetings there was talk of the "right to self determination" and the "right to refuse treatment for the terminally ill”. The participants also expressed views and impressions on the National Health Act 1997, paragraph 12, which establishes the right of the patient to set the limits for care in the event of a coma or vegetative state. It also provides for authorized "therapies that put an end to pain".

Chatree Charoensiri, Secretary General of the National Committee for Healthcare, said that several factors should be taken into consideration in the revision of paragraph 12 of the Act, among them "the law, society, culture and religion", so as not to trigger "conflict" but ensure "the patients choices are respected”. At the conclusion of the conference - the doctor says - the Committee will prepare a draft "to be submitted to the executive for approval." The World Medical Association guarantees the right of self determination to the patient, the Thai Constitution and the draft revision of the law are, however, a clear reference to human dignity and the right to life.

Phra Phaisan Visalia, a Buddhist monk, emphasizes that "pain, disability and illness should not be regarded as enemies, but with accepted with wisdom”. He states that "people have to die a natural death" without external interventions or instruments that constitute a "passive euthanasia", above all, he adds, there must always be respect for life.

John Baptist Siranon Sanpetch, director of San Camillo in the diocese of Ratchaburi, appreciates the groundwork laid down in Article 12, but clarifies that any eventual biological testament must “facilitate agreement between doctor and patient about the type of treatment to be administered". The physician must continue to alleviate the symptoms of the disease, but these elements must be united to "spiritual care and support of relatives."

Toemsak Phungrasami, an oncologist in a healthcare centre in the province of Songkhala makes it clear that the patient must be attached to a respirator, even if this serves to keep him alive "for one day only." It is right that the patient "can say goodbye to relatives and friends." "To die a natural death – he ends - is the best way; the patient should only receive the care needed to alleviate symptoms as they arise".