The issue of euthanasia and the need for information and social dialogue in Cyprus were discussed on Monday at a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.
Konstantinos Fellas, Chairman of the National Bioethics Committee of Cyprus, stated that a nationwide research study was conducted with the participation of 750 people over the age of 18 on euthanasia. According to the survey, six out of ten participants said they agreed with the legalization of euthanasia and that our fellow human beings have the right to choose death through euthanasia, he said, emphasizing that eight out of ten say that this right can be exercised in case of incurable and torturous chronic disease or when all the possibilities for pain relief have been exhausted. Furthermore, he noted that 64% of respondents said that it was time to create a legal framework for euthanasia in Cyprus and that 50% agreed with the right of a person to choose to proceed with euthanasia.
"For the Church, active or passive euthanasia is considered a deprivation of life. If it is voluntary, it is considered assisted suicide. If it is not voluntary, it is no different from murder"
"Society is sending a message to the state for the institutionalization and legalization of euthanasia," he said, adding that the National Bioethics Committee of Cyprus is unanimously in favor of legalizing voluntary euthanasia with the patient's valid and informed consent. Mr. Fellas also called for strict conditions and strict safeguards to protect the dignity and respect of those suffering from an incurable disease. "The legalization of euthanasia is not a substitute for effective palliative care that the state is obliged to provide to our fellow citizens," he said.
Irini Charalambidou, AKEL MP and Chairman of the Committee noted that the research of the National Bioethics Committee of Cyprus is the first documented approach to society's views on euthanasia. "Everything points to the acceptance of such a legislative approach by society," she said, adding that the position of the Ministry of Health is also positive, in that it is in favor of giving individuals the right to euthanasia under strict conditions.
Ms. Charalambidou stressed that we must defend the right of a patient who suffers from an illness from which he/she cannot recover, based on medical opinion, and give the individual the right to choose the way he/she will leave this life. In addition, she stated that the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the University of Nicosia, the University of Cyprus and the Pancyprian Bar Association, will prepare a "very difficult" -as she described it- draft law that will provide for changes to the Penal Code.
Answering a journalist's question, she explained that similar practices exist all over the world and that it is a matter of supervision and implementation of laws by each country. "In the first stage, we will not touch on the issue of minors," she concluded.
Rita Superman, DISY MP, said that the dilemmas for the implementation of a legislative framework for the informed right to death and the autonomy of the individual still remain. "What we are looking at here is not the right to die, but the right to be killed by a doctor or the right to support suicide," she said, adding that euthanasia requires two people to make it possible and a "complicit society" to makes it acceptable.
Ms. Superman referred to the example of the Netherlands, "which since the beginning of the implementation of the law of euthanasia has changed the framework many times and today gives the right to too many groups of patients." She argued that there was a risk that supply would also create demand, as evidenced by the large increase in the number of people seeking euthanasia at the European level. In addition, she pointed out that the patient-doctor relationship can be pernicious because doctors are, at times, perceived to push patients towards committing suicide.
Pavlos Mylonas, DIKO MP, noted that passive euthanasia does occur in Cyprus, but active euthanasia is "a dangerous line between killing and relieving a patient's pain." The data from the National Committee of Bioethics of Cyprus are useful, however, the research addressed focusing on patients who are in the final stage of an illness would give us the answers, stressed Mr. Mylonas, adding that the issue is sensitive.
Mr. Mylonas also raised the issue of minors and the elderly, as well as the patient's agreement with the doctors. "Who will carry out the ending of a life? Who will make the decision if the patient is not able to make it?" he wondered, adding that the issue is what patients in the final stages of their illness say and think.
For her part, Alexandra Attalidou, Member of Parliament for Ecologists, stressed that the vast majority of Cypriot society agrees on the right to euthanasia for people who are in the final stages of illness. "Euthanasia will involve people who fully consciously agree and consent to their exit from life with this method," she said, adding that the legal framework would be very strict. "The state legislates for all citizens and not for specific groups," she emphasized.
Ms. Attalidou stated that once science assures that the patient is expected to die a painful death from their illness, they should be entitled to curtail their suffering. "It's a human being's right to decide," she concluded.
Alekos Tryfonidis, DIPA MP, stated that his party will monitor the issue of euthanasia and will listen carefully to all views. "We consider it important that there is a social dialogue so that all views are heard, whether positive or negative. "The legal framework on which it will be voted must be strict and include all procedures and conditions," he added.
In addition, Mr. Tryfonidis stressed that the State must substantially improve palliative care services and provide them to all patients who need them. "There are serious gaps and omissions in this area, resulting in the suffering of our fellow citizens," he said.
For his part, Father George Christodoulou, Secretary-General of the Holy Synod, said that the view of the Church is timeless and may sound harsh because the philanthropic dilemmas that may arise become marginal and are perceived as inhuman.
"For the Church, euthanasia, whether active or passive, is considered a deprivation of life. If it is voluntary, it is considered assisted suicide. "If it is not voluntary, it is no different from murder," he said, noting that when the issue of death is raised, the issue of the principle of life is raised.