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Legal Dictionary

voluntary euthanasia

Definition of voluntary euthanasia

Further reading

Voluntary euthanasia (from the Greek ευθανασία meaning "good death": ευ-, eu- (well or good) + θάνατος, thanatos (death)) refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. Voluntary euthanasia (VE) and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) have been the focus of great controversy in recent years.

As of 2009, some forms of voluntary euthanasia are legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.

Arguments for and against voluntary euthanasia

Since World War II, the debate over euthanasia in Western countries has centered on voluntary euthanasia (VE) within regulated health care systems. In some cases, judicial decisions, legislation, and regulations have made VE an explicit option for patients and their guardians. Proponents and critics of such VE policies offer the following reasons for and against official voluntary euthanasia policies:

Reasons given for voluntary euthanasia

  • Choice: Proponents of VE emphasize that choice is a fundamental principle for liberal democracies and free market systems.
  • Quality of Life: The pain and suffering a person feels during a disease, even with pain relievers, can be incomprehensible to a person who has not gone through it. Even without considering the physical pain, it is often difficult for patients to overcome the emotional pain of losing their independence.
  • Opinion of Witnesses: Those who witness others die are "particularly convinced" that the law should be changed to allow assisted death.
  • Economic costs and human resources: Today in many countries there is a shortage of hospital space. The energy of doctors and hospital beds could be used for people whose lives could be saved instead of continuing the life of those who want to die which increases the general quality of care and shortens hospital waiting lists. It is a burden to keep people alive past the point they can contribute to society, especially if the resources used could be spent on a curable ailment.

Reasons given against voluntary euthanasia

  • Professional role: Critics argue that voluntary euthanasia could unduly compromise the professional roles of health care employees, especially doctors. They point out that European physicians of previous centuries traditionally swore some variation of the Hippocratic Oath, which in its ancient form excluded euthanasia: "To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.." However, since the 1970s, this oath has largely fallen out of use.
  • Moral/Theological: Some people, including many Christians, consider euthanasia of some or all types to be morally unacceptable. This view usually treats euthanasia to be a type of murder and voluntary euthanasia as a type of suicide, the morality of which is the subject of active debate.
  • Necessity: If there is some reason to believe the cause of a patient's illness or suffering is or will soon be curable, the correct action is sometimes considered to attempt to bring about a cure or engage in palliative care.
  • Feasibility of implementation: Euthanasia can only be considered "voluntary" if a patient is mentally competent to make the decision, i.e., has a rational understanding of options and consequences. Competence can be difficult to determine or even define.
  • Consent under pressure: Given the economic grounds for VE, critics of VE are concerned that patients may experience psychological pressure to consent to voluntary euthanasia rather than be a financial burden on their families. Even where health costs are mostly covered by public money, as in various European countries, VE critics are concerned that hospital personnel would have an economic incentive to advise or pressure people toward euthanasia consent.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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