“Against all the injuries of life, I have the refuge of death” ~ Seneca
Through time there have always been these perceived notions of ‘mercy killings’, ‘angels of death’ or ‘death with dignity’.1 The human race has understood that death can be a release from the suffering of today. With modern medicine and today’s technology we are keeping very sick people alive by, sometimes, elongated and painful methods.1 This distinction between living and not living is therefore getting increasingly blurry.1 The topic of Euthanasia has hence become a topic of intense discussion and is only gaining controversy.2,3
There are many types of Euthanasia and many words that are referred to during a discussion about Euthanasia.
Types of Euthanasia:
Passive Euthanasia – Euthanasia that is done by inaction/removal of support for life, e.g. Do Not Resuscitate orders, Withdrawal of food or water from a person in a vegetative state/not recovering quick enough. 4,5
Active Euthanasia – Euthanasia that refers to the deliberate act, usually through the intentional administration of lethal drugs, to end a patient’s life.4,5
Assisted suicide – Euthanasia carried out by a physician, this may either be directly administered by the physician (physician-assisted suicide) or simply prescribed by the physician (self-assisted suicide). 4
Terms ‘voluntary’, ‘involuntary’ and ‘non-voluntary’ are also used in the context of Euthanasia.4 Voluntary Euthanasia is at the request of the patient, Involuntary refers to Euthanasia against the will of the patient (which is essentially murder) and non-voluntary is where the patient is not in a state to make an adequate judgement.1,4,5 The topic of discussion within Euthanasia is in the context of Voluntary Active Euthanasia and what implications can occur. 5
There are many sides to the argument, they can be related to the
– Ethical debate; the struggle for life is embedded in societies.1,5
– Religious debate; the ‘do not kill’ and all life is sacred1,5
– Economic debate; relating to the high cost of treatment in the prolonging of life. 1,5
– Legal debate; respect of life which prohibits and prosecutes homicide 1,5
– Social debate; overcrowding and the ageing population1,5
We shall discuss each of these areas in further detail in the upcoming weeks.
The following video is a snippet from the documentary “The Suicide Tourist” (2007) by John Zaritsky. The video follows a sufferer of end stage Motor Neuron Disease and his final days on Earth including the reasons he choose to go through with assisted suicide.
Euthanasia, especially as it deals with the ending of life, is a sensitive topic and very personalised.3 The responsibility, as with any administration of drugs, falls on the doctor/physician.3 The last thing to think about after our discussion is ‘Would you as a doctor be happy to administer medication that you know will end a life?’
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” ~ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- Diaconsecu AM. Euthanasia. Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice. 2012;4(2):474-483.
- The Life Resources Charitable Trust. About Euthanasia [Internet ]. The life resources charitable trust 2011 [cited 2015 Mar 29]. Available from: http://www.life.org.nz/euthanasia/abouteuthanasia/
- Tran PHM. Advancing the Culture of Dealth: Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide Melbourne Freedom Publishing; 2006.
- BBC. Forms of Euthanasia [Internet]. BBC; 2014 [cited 2015 Mar 29]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/overview/forms.shtml
- Ebrahimi N. The ethics of Euthanasia Australian Medical Student Journal [Internet ]. 2012;3(1):73-75. Available from: http://www.amsj.org/wp-content/uploads/files/articles/amsj_v3_i1/AMSJ_v3_i1_pp73-75.pdf