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LCQ17: Euthanasia

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


     In the past few years, quite a number of members of the public have relayed to me their wish that the Government would permit euthanasia (which, according to the Code of Professional Conduct for the Guidance of Registered Medical Practitioners of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, is defined as "direct intentional killing of a person as part of the medical care being offered") be performed on terminally ill patients. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the numbers of requests for euthanasia from members of the public received by the Hospital Authority in each of the past three years;

(b) whether the authorities had conducted any study in the past three years on the legalisation of euthanasia and the specific criteria for performing euthanasia; if they had, of the outcome of the study; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given that it is understood that certain states of the United States and some European countries now permit a terminally ill patient in clear consciousness to request his doctor to perform euthanasia on him and, upon confirmation by several doctors after assessments, the doctor will prescribe lethal drugs for consumption by the patient on his own initiative, whether the Government will draw reference from the policies adopted in these countries and conduct public consultation on whether euthanasia should be permitted in Hong Kong as well as carry out a further study; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Euthanasia involves a third party's acts of intentional killing, manslaughter, or aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, which are unlawful acts according to the laws of Hong Kong, possibly liable to criminal offence(s) under Offences Against The Person Ordinance (Cap. 212).  Also, the Code of Professional Conduct (the Code) of the Medical Council of Hong Kong defines euthanasia as "direct intentional killing of a person as part of the medical care being offered".  Euthanasia is neither legal nor medically ethical in Hong Kong.  Hence, even if a person requests for the conduct of euthanasia, healthcare professionals should in no way act as instructed.  Any person who is involved in euthanasia may have committed the above offences.

     Withholding life-sustaining treatment for the terminally ill and euthanasia are two distinct concepts.  As prescribed in the Code, the withholding or withdrawing of artificial life support procedures for a terminally ill patient is not euthanasia.  Withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment taking into account the patient's benefits, wish of the patient and family, and the principle of futility of treatment for a terminal patient, is legally acceptable and appropriate.  It is important that the right of the terminally ill patient be respected.  Where it is impossible to ascertain the views of the patient, the views of his/her relatives should be solicited.  The Hospital Authority (HA) has issued the Guidelines on Life-sustaining Treatment in the Terminally Ill based on the Code with a view to assisting HA frontline doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals caring for the terminally ill in making decisions with respect to life-sustaining treatment for the terminally ill.

     Our specific reply to the respective parts of the question is as follows:

(a) HA has occasionally received individual enquiries regarding the issue of euthanasia.  We have not compiled statistics in this aspect.  

(b) and (c) According to our understanding, the vast majority of countries and places in the world currently do not allow euthanasia.  A very small number of countries (e.g. the Netherlands and Belgium) allow euthanasia to be conducted under statutory regulations; in the USA a minority number of states (e.g. the State of Oregon) allow doctors to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide under statutory regulations, while maintaining euthanasia as an illegal act.

     Euthanasia is a highly complex and controversial issue involving implications in various dimensions including medical, social, moral, ethical and legal aspects, etc.  Any subject matter concerning life must be considered carefully.  The Medical Council of Hong Kong has made clear in the Code that euthanasia is "illegal and unethical".  In the past, various sectors of the community including the Legislative Council, professional bodies, community organisations, newspaper commentaries, etc. had some discussions touching on the issue of euthanasia, and the current laws in Hong Kong as well as the Code have already reflected the views of society.

     Very often, a patient's desire to seek death is grown out of his/her wish to seek assistance in relieving his/her physical, mental and other kinds of pain.  The responsibility of healthcare workers is to provide suitable treatment to patients.  Even terminal patients should be taken care of suitably in order to relieve the pain of their body and mind.  Currently, there is no strong request in society to change the position of the current laws and the Code towards euthanasia, and hence the Administration has no plan to study or consult on the issue of legalising euthanasia.  We will continue to listen to the views from the public.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:20


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