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What is voluntary euthanasia?

‘I will not prescribe a deadly drug to please someone, nor give advice that may cause his death’ -Hippocrates.

Physicians are ‘not only to resort the health, but to mitigate pain and dolours; and not only when such mitigation may conduce to recovery, but when it may serve to make a fair and easy passage’ -Bacon.

Euthanasia is a criminal offence in virtually all countries, and it is strongly opposed by most governments and religious organisations.

Should we have the ability to control our own destinies, by being offered assistance to take our own lives when we judge that the quality of our lives has deteriorated to the point at which they are no longer worth living?

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What is voluntary euthanasia

In the Netherlands, about a thousand assisted deaths take place each year.

Voluntary or assisted euthanasia is when a person asks to be helped to die.

Involuntary euthanasia is when a person cannot express their wishes and it is questionable whether it is appropriate to sustain their life.

Euthanasia may be passive in the treatment may be withdrawn and a person allowed to die, or active, for instance in the case of the administering of a lethal injection.

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Arguments for voluntary euthanasia

Voluntary euthanasia is not murder, as killing humans who do not want to live is not wrong.

It shows mercy to those suffering with intolerable pain from an incurable disease.

It gives people autonomy- the right to choose their destiny, including how they live and die.

Voluntary euthanasia should be an option for a competent adult who is able and willing to make such a decision.

Euthanasia goes on already, in an uncontrolled and therefore unsafe way.

It allows human beings to live dignified lives- the end of their lives should be dignified.

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Arguments against euthanasia

Motives may be questionable- we may ask in moments of despair, or out of misplaced fears of the future.

Mistakes could be made through faulty diagnosis.

The system might be subject to abuse in the case of elderly relatives.

Euthanasia might have a negative impact on the community by reducing the importance of care of patients who are dying, or by preventing people from going to hospital for fear of the possible consequences.

Acceptance of the practice of killing in hospitals could reduce the respect for life that civilisation uphold.

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Involuntary euthanasia

Typically discussed in relation to patients who are comatose or even in cases of severely terminally ill newborn babies.

Withdrawing burdensome medical treatment is not controversial but withdrawing food and water is more controversial, as in the case of Tony Bland who was starved to death.

Some argue severely disables babies are a burden on families and society and should be allowed to die.


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Christian perspectives on euthanasia

The human person is the image of God.

Bible teachings prohibit killing and promote healing although there are some exceptions in terms of self-sacrifice for others.

Catholic teaching opposes all euthanasia as it interferes with God’s plan- the Gospels of life- killing is an offence against the dignity of the human person and sometimes suffering in life is there for a purpose.

However, excessive burdensome treatment is unnecessary.

Some liberal Protestants argue that euthanasia can be an act of love as the quality matters as much as quantity, death is not the end and can be a friend to those suffering terribly.

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Evaluating euthanasia

Some argue that there is no moral difference between the withdrawal of treatment and active killing of a patient by lethal injection.

The theological traditions that underpin the religious arguments have been challenged, as there are exceptions for the no-killing in the case of self-defence and war.

The consequences of legalised euthanasia are uncertain.

There would be flaws in the systems that might be regulate the practice. Could they ever be foolproof?

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Evaluating euthanasia

We cannot predict the impact that voluntary euthanasia might have on people’s perceptions of hospitals, or how it might be affect an elderly person’s perception of whether he or she is a burden.

The potential social dangers stand against the restrictions of individual autonomy that result from prohibiting voluntary euthanasia.

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