THE DEFINITION OF EUTHANASIA
The word euthanasia is derived from the Greek word “euthanatos” meaning “well death” and originally referred to intentional mercy killing. In the modern context euthanasia is limited to the killing of patients by doctors at the request of the patient in order to free him of excruciating pain or from terminal illness. When medical advances made prolonging of the lives of dying or comatose patients possible, the term euthanasia was also applied to omission to prevent death. Euthanasia may be classified as active and passive or alternatively as voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary. Active euthanasia involves painlessly putting individuals to death for merciful reasons, as when a doctor administers a lethal dose of medication to a patient. Passive euthanasia involves not doing something to prevent death, as when doctors refrain from using devices necessary to keep alive a terminally ill patient or a patient in a persistent vegetative state. In voluntary euthanasia, a person asks for death (by either active or passive euthanasia). Non-voluntary euthanasia refers to ending the life of a person who is not mentally competent, such as a comatose patient, to make an informed request for death. In addition there is another category of involuntary euthanasia. This is said to occur when a patient is killed against his express will. It is important that euthanasia is not confused with assisted suicide. The latter involves a patient’s voluntarily bringing about his or her own death with the assistance of another person, typically a physician. In this case, the act is a suicide (intentional self-inflicted death), because the patient actually causes his or her own death. Thus, while in assisted suicide the doctor makes available to the patient the means by which he can kill himself, in euthanasia the doctor himself (by act or omission) kills the patient. The issue of assisted suicide is closely related to that of euthanasia because it also involves questions of similar nature. Furthermore, some countries have preferred to legalise assisted suicide though they remain averse to permitting euthanasia.
EUTHANASIA AND LAW
While growing population demands make it nearly impossible to have referendums of popular choice in every particular dispute, it is true that for the law to be respected and effective, it must, in a democracy, embody what is generally regarded as right. A series of opinion polls conducted both in India and abroad revealed that a majority of the population was in favor of legalisation of euthanasia. In one such historic referendum in November 1994, Oregon (U.S.A.) became the first state to vote in favor of physically assisted suicide. Some scholars have recently been arguing that the State has no right to force a person to live in a state of unbearable pain and bear the expense of unproductive medical treatment. Every person must have a right to choose his own way of life and the State cannot force a person to live in a particular manner. In England, there is the famous case of Dr. Nigel Cox who was tried for attempted murder. In August 1991, Lillian Boyes had been suffering acute pain from rheumatoid arthritis, which her doctor, Nigel Cox, was unable to control with analgesics. She repeatedly begged him to kill her and, in the face of her terrible anguish and his own inability to control the pain, Dr. Cox injected Lillian Boyes with two ampoules of potassium chloride - a double dose of a lethal drug that has no curative or pain killing properties. Some days later a Roman Catholic nurse reported his action and he was charged with attempted murder. He was found guilty and was given a twenty-month suspended prison sentence. The General Medical Council reviewed his case and said that while a doctor could ease pain and suffering, it is ‘wholly outside that duty to shorten life in order to relieve suffering’. Nevertheless, the Council added that it had decided ‘to temper justice with mercy’...
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