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Cyprus starts euthanasia debate

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MPs have dived into the thorny issue of euthanasia, launching a round of discussion with civil society in parliament.

The discussion was attended by Health Ministry officials, the Cyprus Bar Association, the Cyprus Medical Association, the National Bioethics Committee of Cyprus, representatives of the Holy Synod.

It is considered a sensitive subject because it touches upon the human rights of terminally ill patients and bioethics.

Cyprus law forbids doctors to perform euthanasia at the wish of dying patients but registers the act as assisted suicide, a criminal offence.

In October, the issue was tabled by the chair of the Human Rights Committee, AKEL MP Irini Charalambides.

Charalambides argues many countries have already instituted euthanasia following court rulings.

She said euthanasia should not be looked upon as “a choice between life and death, but a choice between a painful, torturous death and a death with dignity.”

The committee aims to establish a “strict legal framework” to determine the specific cases where the legislation will be applied.

She gave the example of people diagnosed with incurable diseases who face imminent and inevitable death in a manner that “affects the dignity of the individual”.

Euthanasia would only be carried out after the opinion of a medical council, evaluation from psychologists to verify the mental state of the patient and their ability to seek medical assistance and advice.

Charalambides said that various legal issues raised during the session would be evaluated.

AKEL MP George Koukoumas stated that “at this stage, AKEL does not have a strong position on the matter but has a number of concerns”.

One of the party’s concerns is whether allowing euthanasia could motivate seriously ill people from low-income classes to choose to die over becoming a “financial burden” for their families.

Ruling Disy MP Rita Superman said her party would wait for experts to weigh their opinions before expressing a position on the issue.

Cyprus Bar Association chair Achilleas Demetriades said the issue is “existential”.

He explained that in terms of human rights, the individual is entitled to a dignified life and the question arises whether an individual is also entitled to a dignified death.

Representatives of the medical association raised concerns over whether euthanasia violates the Hippocratic Oath by physician-assisted suicide.

Dr Michael Anastasiades of the Pancyprian medical association and chair of the ethics committee said: “patients’ opinion should be considered”.