‘Right to die’ law protects medical staff

Patients in Abu Dhabi hospitals will have the right not to be resuscitated.  Silvia Razgova / The National
Patients in Abu Dhabi hospitals will have the right not to be resuscitated. Silvia Razgova / The National

Despite its inevitability, death remains one of the least-talked-about subjects in our society. To be sure, it is not a pleasant topic, but we all ought to discuss it with our loved ones. It’s not just a matter of drawing up a will to ensure your property is distributed properly – although that is important – it’s about how you want to spend your final days. Specifically: if the condition is terminal, would you want to be continually resuscitated even if it involved great physical and emotional stress? Or would you want to be allowed to die when your vital signs cease?

Obviously this is a subject with significant religious, ethical and moral dimensions, and the answer would be different for different people. That is why the discussion ought to be had. Now, put yourself in the position of emergency-room and intensive-care unit doctors who face this situation on a daily basis, generally without the benefit of clear instructions from the patient or their close family. Under the current regulations, if doctors do not attempt to revive every patient, regardless of circumstances, they face prosecution and a possible jail term.

The new law that takes away the compulsion to resuscitate gives those medical professionals more certainty. It is not about euthanasia or “mercy killing”, it is about allowing people to die naturally by not using medical intervention to revive them. There are strict conditions, including the agreement of at least three doctors, before it can happen.

It is one of a raft of changes to the health system in recent months that brings the UAE into line with practices in developed countries. The others address such important matters as the overprescription of antibiotics, profit-chasing by hospitals and health insurance fraud. The “right to die” rule is necessary to remove the uncertainty associated with malpractice procedures. Some doctors have been reluctant to work here because they fear being jailed for what is standard procedure elsewhere.

All this is important to ensure that the UAE has a world-class health system and that it is competitive in the area of medical tourism, which is a future wealth generator. Implemented properly, with professional oversight, it will not take any choice away from the individual patient or their family. We should all be able to retain control over our own lives and of those nearest and dearest to us.

Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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