What is Euthanasia?
The term 'Euthanasia' comes from two Greek words; 'Eu' meaning 'Well, and 'Thanatos' meaning 'Death' - so means 'painless/happy death'. It describes a medical procedure by which a person terminates his or her own life because of extreme pain or suffering, or by which the life of another person is either allowed to come to an end or is brought to an end, with legal consent, because of a critical medical condition.
Two important distinctions are made about the way euthanasia is performed;
Passive Euthanasia - to allow a patient to die by withdrawing medical treatment or nourishment, for example, turning off a life-support system to which a patient in a coma has been connected.
Active Euthanasia - to take action deliberatley designed to end a patients life, for example fiving someone a lethal injection or, in time of war, a mortally wounded soldier in great pain asking his comrade to 'finish him off' in order to shorten his suffering.
As the law stands in the UK, deliberate or 'active' euthanasia will normally leave anyone assisting suicide or death liable for murder. Euthanasia is outlawed by the Murder Act of 1965 and by the Suicide Act of 1971. The murder act states that intentional killing, even with the patients consent for compassionate reasons, is a crime and the suicide act makes assisted suicide a crime.
However, euthanasia has been decriminalised in a number or european countries, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and in 2008 these countries were joined by luxemburg. In Luxemburg, euthanasia is allowed only for the terminally ill, who have expressed their desire to die, and where the consent of two doctors and panel of experts has been given.
Forms of Euthanasia
Voluntary Euthanasia - This means causing a patient death, where consent has been given by the individual.
Case Study - Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty desperately wanted a doctor or her husband to help her die. Motor neurone disease left her mind sharp but gradually destroyed her muscles, making it hard for her to communicate with her family. It left her in a wheekchair; catheterised and fed through a tube. Diane fought against the disease for the last two years of her life and has every possible medical treatment. Rather than living with the fear of dying by choking or suffication, she wanted her husband to help her die, although this would be classed as assisted suicide and is illegal in the UK.
Pretty took her case to the court, using the Human Rights Act to argue that the Director of Public Prosecutions should make a commitment not to prosecute anybody involved in helping her die. British Courts did not accept Pretty's arguments, eventually turning her case down.
Forms of Euthanasia
Non- Voluntary Euthanasia - This is the killing of a patient who is not able to express his/her wishes about whether they should be able to live or die. Eg. new born babies/person in coma.
Case Study - Anthony Bland
Anthony Bland was a 17- year old victim of the 1989 Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster. He was left in a persistent vegetative state. PVS is a condition of patients with severe brain damage in whom coma has progressed to a state of wakefulness wihtout detectable awareness. His parens believe that Anthony would not want to be kept alive in such a condition. The hospital, with the help of his parents, applied for a court order allowing him to 'die with dignity'. As a result he became the first patient in English legal history to be allowed to die by the courts through the withdrawal of life prolonging treament - hydration and artifical nutrition - which he did in 1993.
Arguments for legalising Voluntary Euthanasia
There has been a growing campaign by groups such as 'Dignity in Dying' to legalise voluntary euthanasia. A number of arguments have been given in favour;
Personal autonomy - the 'Good Medical Pratice' guide for doctors states that doctors should listen to patients and respond to their concerns and preferances. They should also reespect patients' rights to reach decisions with their doctors about their treament and care.
The 'Quality of Life' principle - Quality of life is a human condition in which a person enjoys a degree of physical, intellectual and emotional well being, the absence of which through svere illness is sometimes used as an argument in favour for euthanasia.
Euthanasia will end suffering - Death for many people is often preceded by serious pain which can be prevented only to a limited extent by drugs. Is it not more humane, therefore, to quickly end a persons suffering>
Puts extra pressure on society - With the breakdown of the traditional family unit in many societies, people are left with no one to care for them. Some argue that euthanasia is preferable to being left to die alone or putting pressure on the health service.
Arguments against Euthanasia
The 'Sanctity of Life' principle - This argument is often used by religious believers. It is based on the belief that human life is sacred and that, therefore, no person has the right to take his or her own life. If life is sacred, and created by God, then only He can end it. Euthanasia challenges Gods will.
A mistake diagnosis - Doctors and medical staff are only human, they can make mistakes. Even patients in a persistent vegatative state have been known to recover. Not every illness diagnosed as terminal will end in death. Cases of patients given terminal prognosis, only to live significantly longer than anticipated or to recover entirely, are not rare.
The 'Slippery Slope' argument - this maintains that euthanasia is the thin end of the wedge - that once we accept euthanasia, the door is open for all sorts of other procedures and abuses, including infanticide. This argument is that euthanasia involves crossing a line and once this line is crosse, the consequences are unforeseeable.
How can we know the motive - When a person asks for death, can we be sure that the person isnt crying out in despair, rather than making a definitive decision? Any euthanasia process would have to be able to establish, beyond any doubt, the true intentions of the patient requesting euthanasia.
- Many jews support the 'sanctity of life' principle. According to the book of genisis, God is the creator of life. Humans are made in Gods image so they deserve dignity and respect.
- God also gave humans dominion over all creation, and so we have a responsibility to use Gods gift wisely.
-In favour of Euthanasia
- Some jews argue they are fulfilling their religious duty in the Ten Comandments to 'Honour your father and mother' by respecting their parents wishes to die.
- The teaching of Rabi Isserles states 'If there is anything which causes hindrance to the departure of the soul...then it is permissible to remove it'.
- Christians support the sancitity of life principle
- Some christians would say that if we care for eachother, offering proper support and pain relief, euthanasia is not needed.
- Some christians believe that people should be allowed to die with dignity and would wish the option of legal euthanasia to be available.
- Some christians may argue that they are fulfilling their religious duty in the ten comanments to 'honour your mother and father' by respecting their parents wishes to die.
- Muslims reject the idea of euthanasia - every soul is perfect even is the bodt is not.
- The reason for any suffering will be known by Allah. Allah is not cruel so there must be a reason for the pain.
- Everything has a natural shariah (path or purpose) so muslims should not go against their nature.
- Hindus believe that all life is sacred
- Euthanasia will interfere with a persons darma (duty) and cause the sould to be seperated from the body