Foot Euthanasia

Topics: Human rights, Death, Universal Declaration of Human Rights Pages: 29 (12815 words) Published: November 11, 2014
Euthanasia
Author(s): Philippa Foot
Source: Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter, 1977), pp. 85-112 Published by: Wiley
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PHILIPPA FOOT

Euthanasia

The widely used Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives three meanings for the word "euthanasia": the first, "a quiet and easy death"; the second, "the means of procuring this"; and the third, "the action of inducing a quiet and easy death." It is a curious fact that no one of the three gives an adequate definition of the word as it is usually understood. For "euthanasia" means much more than a quiet and easy death, or the means of procuring it, or the action of inducing it. The definition specifies only the manner of the death, and if this were all that was implied a murderer, careful to drug his victim, could claim that his act was an act of euthanasia. We find this ridiculous because we take it for granted that in euthanasia it is death itself, not just the manner of death, that must be kind to the one who dies.

To see how important it is that "euthanasia" should not be used as the dictionary definition allows it to be used, merely to signifiy that a death was quiet and easy, one has only to remember that Hitler's "euthanasia" program traded on this ambiguity. Under this program, planned before the War but brought into full operation by a decree of i September I939, some 275,000 people were gassed in centers which were to be a model for those in which Jews were later exterminated. Anyone in a state institution could be sent to the gas chambers if it was considered that he could not be "rehabilitated"for useful work. As Dr. Leo Alexander reports, relying on the testimony of a ? 1977 by Philippa Foot

I would like to thank Derek Parfit and the editors of Philosophy & Public Affairs for their very helpful comments.

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86

Philosophy & Public Affairs

neuropathologist who received 500 brains from one of the killing centers,
In Germany the exterminations included the mentally defective, psychotics (particularly schizophrenics), epileptics and patients suffering from infirmities of old age and from various organic neurological disorders such as infantile paralysis, Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors.

. .

. In truth, all those unable

to work and considered nonrehabilitable were killed.,
These people were killed because they were "useless" and "a burden on society"; only the manner of their deaths could be thought of as relatively easy and quiet.
Let us insist, then, that when we talk about euthanasia we are talking about a death understood as a good or happy event for the one who dies. This stipulation follows etymology, but is itself not exactly in line with current usage, which would be captured by the condition that the death should not be an evil rather than that it should be a good. That this is how people talk is shown by the fact that the case of Karen Ann Quinlan and others in a state of permanent coma is often discussed under the heading of "euthanasia." Perhaps it...
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