Medical and law students were invited to attend a workshop on Friday 12th March to discuss several medico-legal issues; the product of a collaboration between the University organizations Għaqda Studenti tal-Liġi (GĦSL) and Malta Medical Students’ Association (MMSA).
The initial part of the event consisted of a question and answer session with speakers Dr. Alessandro Lia and Dr. Jurgen Abela, representing the legal and medical spheres respectively. Two case studies were tackled, the first of which was local and highlighted the difficulty doctors find in drawing the line as to what extent they should disclose information to their patients. Dr. Lia stated that a mere consent form, with the patient’s signature accepting to undergo an intervention, does not prove that one has been adequately informed. He added that it is in the doctor’s discretion to determine which points should be raised with the patient, also considering the latter’s state of mind.
According to Dr. Abela, it is essential for medics to communicate with patients in a way which is easily understood, without divulging every single detail which could as result confuse or scare the subjected person. Both speakers also slightly touched on the reasonable practices and guidelines, including those at EU level, which all doctors should abide by, as well as the imperative principle that one must make good for damages made in one’s own fault.
The second consulted study was the infamous Terri Schiavo case, where an American woman spent 15 years in permanent vegetative state, until her husband and doctor decided it was time to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube, even though her parents strongly opposed. Dr. Lia expressed his concern on the non existence of Maltese legislation which regulates such a situation – when a patient’s next of kin disagree. Dr. Abela agreed, and further feels it unfair for certain family members to be given preference over others in determining a patient’s form of extraordinary treatment.
Participation from the attendees increased drastically during the second half of the workshop, in a debate between MEP candidates Dr. Arnold Cassola (AD), Kevin Plumpton (PN) and Cyrus Engerer (MLP). Apart from cliché questions raised regarding same sex marriage and the Maltese education system, the primary topics at hand, related to the legal and medical hybridism, were drug legalization and abortion.
All three candidates agreed unanimously in favour of drug decriminalization especially substances solely for personal use. Plumpton and Engerer both feel decriminalization is the primary step to be taken in the face of drug trafficking, while Dr. Cassola emphasized on the need to fill legal voids concerning classification of drugs, in order to not group substances of all types into a single context.
With regards to abortion, all the candidates again raised common points, holding on to the philosophical principle that the fetus is a person which deserves protection. Thus they all disagreed on the introduction of abortion as a legal practice, even in situations of extreme poverty, rape or when the mother’s life is at risk. Although they later expressed the same opinion that sexual and reproductive rights of all citizens should be preserved, they still simultaneously disagreed with abortion in practically any possible scenario.