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MPs still divided on euthanasia, united on need for universal end of life care

A parliamentary debate on euthanasia Thursday revealed broad consensus among lawmakers about the need for nationwide end of life care. Support for the proposal was so great that government will set about introducing the necessary legal reforms to ensure the right to palliative care from next autumn.

Euthanasia or end of life care?

Not surprisingly, the issue of legalising euthanasia or mercy killing triggered high feelings among MPs on either side of the debate. The contentious initiative was launched back in November and attracted the required 50,000 signatures needed for MPs to debate it just four weeks later.

The divisive nature of the citizen’s initiative calling for legal euthanasia was obvious from the get-go.

"A fatal injection is a tool for veterinarians not for human care," declared Päivi Räsänen, ex-Christian Democratic Party chair.

National coalition Party MP Timo Heinonen countered her view, saying, "If I were in that kind of situation and these criteria were filled, then I would personally be ready for my death to be as easy and as good as possible."

Finnish government ministers generally avoid engaging in debates on issues that fall outside their purview, but this was not the case on Thursday, as Finns Party chair and Foreign Minister Timo Soini weighed in on the discussion.

Image: Yle

"We are talking about legalising the murder of another person. [It's] not a little thing. Not a matter to be decided in a marketplace by 'ayes'. We are creating a Finnish culture of death. We should not do that," Soini charged.

MPs: Palliative care a universal right

Although there seemed to be little room for consensus on the substantive issue of euthanasia, MPs in the chamber all agreed that it is time for the authorities to ensure that people have access to proper end of life care, wherever they are in the country.

"This would already be a big thank you to the sponsors of the citizen’s initiative, if their work didn’t go to waste," said Greens MP Heli Järvinen.

Support for the idea of universal palliative care bridged party lines and was so powerful, that the government and the Social Affairs and Health Minister couldn't avoid paying attention.

"The best part of the initiative is that it has forced the Parliament to discuss this subject and also that … palliative care is seen as genuinely being part of everyone’s right to a good life and death," noted Centre Party MP Annika Saarikko.

Parliament’s Social Affairs and Health Committee will now have its hands full with the government’s ambitious overhaul of social and health care services as well as decisions on access to euthanasia and expanding end of life care.

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