As addressed in Religion and Medicine on the Right to Die, with the exception of Unitarianism, the world’s major religions reject euthanasia: God alone decides the length of our days.
But when assessed outside of a religious context, what are the legal and ethical pitfalls of euthanasia?
Professor of Philosophy David Benatar of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, states in Current Oncology that being forced to live a life of unbearable suffering is itself unethical.(2)
Advocates of physician-assisted death adhere to two principles:
1) patient liberty/autonomy
2) the doctor’s duty to relieve suffering.(1)
In essence, advocates argue, to deny a patient the choice to end unbearable suffering is unethical, and such a choice should fall within the purview of appropriate medical care.
Where Euthanasia Is Legal
Worldwide, euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Switzerland permits assisted suicide if the person assisting “acts unselfishly.” Colombia permits euthanasia.
Within the United States, California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington allow assisted dying.(7)
While not allowing for physician-assisted suicide outright, Montana did pass a Rights of the Terminally Ill Act which shields doctors from prosecution should they provide narcotics that are used by a terminally ill patient to commit suicide.
Likewise in New Mexico, doctors may prescribe lethal doses of medication to facilitate suicide in the terminally ill.(5)
Where euthanasia is legal, several safeguards are in place to prevent abuse (i.e., killing an elderly parent because the medical bills are growing insurmountable or the care unmanageable).
These safeguards include consent by the person requesting euthanasia, mandatory reporting of all cases, administration only by physicians (everywhere but Switzerland) and consultation by a second physician.(4)
1) Physician Assisted Death in America: Ethics, Law, and Policy Conflicts. Cato-Unbound.com. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
2)Benatar, D. PhD. A legal right to die: responding to slippery slope and abuse arguments. Current-Oncolology Vol 18, No 5 (2011). Retrieved August 2, 2016.
3) Rome, Robin B MSN, FNP-C. The Role of Palliative Care at the End of Life. Ochsner J. 2011 Winter; 11(4): 348–352. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
4) Pereira, J. MBChB MSc. Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls. Curr Oncol. 2011 Apr; 18(2): e38–e45. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
5)News release: Study Examines Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide of Patients with Psychiatric Disorders. JamaNetwork.com. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
6) Euthanasia is Incompatible with Palliative Care. cbc-network.org. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
7) Death with Dignity Laws by State. Findlaw.com. Retrieved August 5, 2016.