Euthanasia

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The word ‘Euthanasia’ is derived from the Greek words ‘easy death.’ The basic definition of euthanasia explained by the Oxford dictionary is “the bringing about of a gentle and easy death in the case of incurable and painful disease” (Allen 2000, p.403). Euthanasia is more often classed as the deliberate and intentional killing of a human being by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or the failure to perform even the most basic medical care, such as the provision of nutrition and hydration, necessary to maintain life (Dworkin, Frey & Bok 1998).

Keown (2002) suggests that there are two main forms of euthanasia, which are; Voluntary Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Voluntary Euthanasia is when the life of someone is ended at his or her own request. A doctor will administer a lethal injection at the patient’s request. Assisted suicide (or physician assisted suicide) is when a patient asks the doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs, which the patient takes without the doctor’s assistance. When examining the morality and ethical issues concerning euthanasia it is important to consider the law, the Church, the physician’s perspective and the individual patient’s needs.

The Human Rights Act 1998 states that “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court….. (Section 42, article 2). However, this article does not consider the reduced quality of life a person with a terminal illness has. Many illnesses can lead to a prolonged and painful death, which is devastating for the patient and their family. If death is inevitable it seams unreasonable to prolong that life and cause unnecessary suffering.

People should not have to unduly suffer if there is an alternative. Palliative care is available and treats the pain and symptoms of the illness but will not cure. For many this is not an option and regardless of all available medication and care they are still suffering and wish that they could bring death sooner. However, due to the legal ramifications within the U.K. families who are willing to support their loved ones wishes, risk imprisonment if they aid death.

Diane Pretty, a motor neurone disease sufferer was unable to commit suicide due to the debilitating effects of her disease. Her husband, Brian was willing to help end her suffering, but after a lengthy legal battle was refused permission as assisted suicide is illegal in the United Kingdom. Diane Pretty died of natural causes in May 2002 (Dyer 2002).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that burdensome and extraordinary medical procedures can be discontinued, intending not to cause death but not to impede it either. However the words “decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected” (CCC 2278) could be open to interpretation regarding one’s own wishes to die.

The Catholic Church would also argue that life is sacrosanct, a gift from God and suffering is part of God’s plan for humanity and that it has spiritual significance. God does not send us any experience that we cannot handle. God supports people in suffering. To actively seek an end to one's life would represent a lack of trust in God’s promise. Douglas and Comfort (1990) explain that Life is a gift from God, and that “each individual its steward” (p.463). Consequently, only God can start a life, and only God should be allowed to end one. Any person who commits suicide is committing sin. Due to this reasoning, the Second Vatican Council condemned “all offences against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and wilful suicide” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 27).

The Commandment outlined in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 clearly states that, “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20.13: Deuteronomy 5.17). This...
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