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Spirited life, serene death

  Thursday, 26 l 08 l 2010 Source:  The New Paper  
By: Veena Bharwani and Ng Wan Ching

First person to publicly campaign for assisted suicide, dies of cancer

cancer fighterTHE end came peacefully for Madam Lim Kim Keo was she finally succumbed to cancer. She died last week with her husband by her side.

She made the news in May when she asked the authorities to grant her a physician assisted suicide.

No doctor had wanted to do as it was against the law.

The New Paper first reported her story on May 5.

Madam Lim, 56, a former teacher and mother of two, found out she had cancer in August 2008. In April, she became paralysed.

Over the weeks that followed, The New Paper checked up on her regularly until she became too ill to take our calls, about a month ago.

She was transferred from the Assisi Hospice to Tan Tock Seng Hospital on July 28, according to her family members.

There she stayed until she died last Wednesday.

Excellent care
Her husband of 34 years, Mr Yan Chun Tong, said she received excellent care at the hospital.

The 61 year old retired oil rig engineer told The New Paper: “She was not shivering as much and did not have as severe headaches after she was transferred to TTSH. The nurses there were very experienced and capable.

“She was much more comfortable.”

Mr Yan and his son both did not want her to end her life by suicide but decided to abide by her wish.

“I had no problem taking care of her even if she was bedridden. I had no wish for her to end her life prematurely. As it was, I was with her till the very end,” he said.

But his wife, by all accounts a stubborn woman, was set on the idea.

At one point, she stopped all food intake. But she continued to drink water whenever she took her pain medicine.

Her son Mr Marcus Yan, 31, a business consultant, said he gave his “agreement” for two reasons.

“One, because I didn’t think she would succeed in her quest. It is against the law,” he said.

The other was that, ironically, the quest itself gave Madam Lim a greater sense of purpose and a will to get going every day.

He told his mother he wanted her to fight to the very end.

The medical director at Assisi Hospice, Dr Tan Yew Seng, said patients like Madam Lim, who request for physician assisted suicide, may be distressed and may not be mentally stable.

Said Dr Tan: “The circumstances surrounding assisted suicides may not be very comfortable. That is, sometimes, it involves starving and harming the patient.

“It can also involve taking medications. These are all painful methods of dying.”

He added that, on the other hand, palliative care is better as it directly responds to the needs of the patients and their families.

Dover Park Hospice’s medical director, Dr Angel Lee, said society in general should look towards helping those like Madam Lim find meaning in the suffering they experience.

She said: “Many people who wish for euthanasia actually wish for some measure of control over the course of life’s events, in this case, their own death. For some, it is an escape from a painful world.

“Helping people find meaning through the suffering they experience and helping them find relief from their distress are not insurmountable challenges.

“Humanity should work on this rather than just look down the euthanasia path.”

Dr Cynthia Goh, centre director of Lien Centre for Palliative Care, said what was interesting is that Madam Lim’s fight to end her life gave her the will to live.

Said Dr Goh: “She really came alive and suddenly found meaning in her life through the cause she was fighting for.”

Assisted Suicide is an Offence

ANY form of assisted suicide is an offence in Singapore.

And if someone were to buy a life insurance policy in Singapore and then commit suicide within 365 days of the purchase, the policy’s beneficiary won’t be able to collect the payout.

This is according to four insurance agents and one insurance company The New Paper spoke to. But after one year, all life policies cover death by
any cause, including suicides.

The rationael behind this clause is to prevent those in distress from thinking their families can benefit from their suicides.

Explained insurance agent Adly Azamin, 42: “A suicide is considered a spur of the moment decision.

A person contemplating suicide is likely to do it sooner rather than later. It is not a planned event. In a year, he might change his mind.”

Another agent, Mr Lewis Oh, 49, said the clause will also ensure that people don’t kill themselves to benefit their next of kin.

In Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal, insurance companies usually pay out the full amount for life policies if the death (either through suicide or euthanasia) occurs three years after the policy’s purchase date.

Currently, euthanasia is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and the US state of Oregon.
– Veena Bharwani

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