Doctors are against assisted dying, call for broader debate

Ljubljana – The Medical Chamber held a press conference on Thursday to comment on a bill that proposes voluntary assisted dying, which heard that general practitioners could not accept this role as their task was to keep people alive. It was noted that the topic required a broader debate about whether Slovenia should introduce a form of euthanasia.

The task of general practitioners is to preserve life, so they cannot accept the role of helping their patients end their lives, as envisaged by the bill, general practitioner Marija Petek Šter said at the press conference.

She noted that general practitioner had established a good relationship with patients over the years and that she could not remember any of them asking her to help them end their lives.

General practitioners thus oppose the bill proposing that all general practitioners be obliged to assist people end their lives, presented in May by the Srebrna Nit association that campaigns for dignified old age.

“We do not want to participate in ending the lives of our patients, who we have cared for for a long time and with whom we have established a relationship, in the way as it has been proposed,” Petek Šter said.

Medical Chamber president Bojana Beović said that assisted suicide and euthanasia were irreversible, and that the topic should be discussed more broadly if Slovenia was to follow the path of the countries that had decided for such options.

“While this is not a medical decision per se, doctors encounter as part of their work the suffering of people and death practically every day, so we have some broad knowledge in this field,” she said.

For this reason, doctors are obliged to talk about these procedures, take positions and convey them to society and people, Beović added.

Jurist Peter Golob said that the bill was the closest to the Spanish law that recognised both procedures, which were tied to the obligation of a certain person to perform the assistance.

He said that the Slovenian proposal was bad as it presented the procedures as a right instead of a possibility, while jurist Urban Vrtačnik added that the proposal lacked a comparable legal analysis and a broader debate on social and legal terms.

There is also a lack of debate on “how to properly balance out values such as the value of life, possibility of making decisions about oneself and inviolability of life in order to obtain a socially and legally coordinated solution,” he added.

Jernej Benedik of the Institute of Oncology said that the priority should be to provide access to good palliative care to all patients in Slovenia, while psychiatrist and psychotherapist Borut Škodlar noted several dilemmas of assisted suicide.

Škodlar said that it was difficult to determine the mental conditions under which a person could be allowed to end their life, and when to declare that a certain mental condition was incurable.

Physician Matjaž Zwitter said that older people, chronic and mental patients would feel the pressure to end their lives if the bill was implemented. “This silent pressure happened in all countries where euthanasia was put into law,” he added.