Should Euthanasia Be Legalized in the Uk?

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The word Euthanasia derives from the Greek words Eu and Thanatos which means easy or good death. Euthanasia is is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma[1]. Euthanasia exists in various forms, each one specific in its criteria. Firstly there is active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia involves the use of direct action in order to end the patient’s life whilst passive euthanasia is the withholding of medical aid in order to allow the patient to die naturally such as not performing life-extending surgery or turning off a life support system. The next distinction is between Voluntary and Involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia involves the patient’s termination at their own request whilst involuntary euthanasia occurs when the patient is unable to ably make a decision and therefore a suitable person makes the decision for them. Indirect euthanasia involves treating the patients pain but with the side effect of death, the primary intention is often used to justify the outcome. This is often referred to as the doctrine of double effect and in reality is not considered euthanasia given that the real purpose of the treatment is pain relief and death is merely seen as the side-affect. Finally there is assisted suicide which involves a patient incapable of committing suicide themselves asks for assistance in doing so. Euthanasia is a controversial topic that contradicts the age old moral injunction “thou shalt not kill”[2]. But similarly denying patient’s of this choice is defying medical practice cornerstones such as the patient’s autonomy and promoting their best interests. Different countries hold varying stances on Euthanasia but it is currently illegal in the UK. Most recently the case of Tony Nicklinson, a man totally paralysed by locked-in syndrome requesting euthanasia, has come to the forefront of the debate. Given the right to take his case to the high court, a win would mark a significant step towards the legalisation of euthanasia in the UK. Tony Nicklinson commented on topic via his wife stating that “it’s no longer acceptable for 21st century medicine to be governed by 20th century attitudes to death”. Both sides of the debate are strongly supported with organisations such as pro-life group “Care Not Killing” and pro-choice group “Dignity in Dying”. Advocates for Euthanasia include Lady Warnock and Margo Macdonald MSP. In 2008 Warnock controversially suggested that those living with dementia should consider euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and medical resources. Whilst this seems extreme experts predict by 2026 there will be one million dementia sufferers in the UK costing the NHS approximately £35 billion annually. Margo Macdonald is an independent MSP who suffers from Parkinsons and campaigns for the legalisation of assisted suicide. She first brought her “End of Life Assistance Bill” to government in December 2010 when it was defeated but she is now again trying to have the revised version of her bill brought into effect. So far in the UK there has been no one charged for aiding suicide but cases such as that of Debbie Purdy and Dianne Pretty have brought this fact into question. In Scotland the organization Dignity in Dying continues to campaign for the changing of British Laws arguing that “The question for politicians in Britain today is why do you force your citizens, people in the most terrible circumstances who are determined to end their suffering in a way of their own choosing, to leave their country and travel to Switzerland to exercise their free will.” Surveys carried out conclude that 80% of UK Citizens and 64% of General Practitioners support the legalization of Euthanasia and yet in 1997 the seventh attempt to have Euthanasia legalized in the UK was rejected by parliament. The Suicide Act 1961, updated by the Coroners and Justice act 2009, makes encouraging...
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