SINGAPORE - A bioethical seminar jointly organized by the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore, and Family Life Society was held at the Catholic Junior College on May 27.

The "Euthanasia Seminar - Killing Or Caring" covered issues such as euthanasia, palliative care, the Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) Act, end-of-life care and issues related to it. The purpose of the seminar was to help Catholics to "be empowered to make an informed choice" about such issues," said Dr John Hui, Master of the Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore.

"Euthanasia is defined as an action or an omission which of itself or by itself causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated," said Dominican Father David Garcia, who is working towards his Ph.D. in Moral Theology.

"Treatment with painkillers to shorten life is morally wrong," he said to the 130-strong audience, "but using [painkillers] to relieve pain is licit, even if the side effect is the shortening of life."

He also assured the audience that "refusal of disproportionately burdensome medical treatment is not killing", just an acceptance of the human condition. He added that "doctors can judge this by comparing the expected results with the strain or suffering put on the patient".

Dr Chan Yeow, a consultant anaesthesiologist and an intensive care physician in the National Neuroscience Institute in Tan Tock Seng Hospital spoke on aspects of euthanasia in the intensive care centre where he works. Based on his experiences with patients who had gone through intensive care, he said that for such patients, suffering is "an opportunity to receive love" from family, friends, doctors and nurses, and is an opportunity for family members to show love.

Dr Ian Leong, a consultant geriatrician, with a special interest in chronic pain, at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, reminded the audience that "euthanasia only applies to those who are dying". "The problem of defining death is only a problem if you want to end a person's life," he said. "It is not a concern if your aim is to continue to care."

The Catholic Church's answer to end-of-life issues lay not in the use of euthanasia but in "palliative care for the terminally ill", explained Dr Rilly Ray. Palliative care concentrates on reducing the severity of the symptoms of a disease or slows its progress rather than providing a cure. It aims at improving the patient's quality of life by reducing or eliminating pain and other physical symptoms, enabling the patient to ease or resolve psychological and spiritual problems, and supporting the partner and family.

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