Understanding Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
This paper will address some of the more popular points of interest involved with the euthanasia-assisted suicide discussion. There are less than a dozen questions which would come to mind in the case of the average individual who has a mild interest in this debate, and the following essay presents information which would satisfy that individual's curiosity on these points of common interest.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in the state of Oregon and in the country of the Netherlands; these are the only two jurisdictions in the world where laws specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Oregon permits assisted suicide.(Oregon) The Netherlands permits both euthanasia and assisted suicide.(Review) In 1995 Australia's Northern Territory approved a euthanasia bill.(Rights) It went into effect in 1996 but was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997. Also, in 1997, Colombia's Supreme Court ruled that penalties for mercy killing should be removed.(Republic) However the ruling does not go into effect until guidelines, still to be drafted, are approved by the Colombian Congress.
The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is seen this way: One way to distinguish them is to look at the last act - the act without which death would not occur. Using this distinction, if a third party performs the last act that intentionally causes a patient's death, euthanasia has occurred. For example, giving a patient a lethal injection or putting a plastic bag over her head to suffocate her would be considered euthanasia.
On the other hand, if the person who dies performs the last act, assisted suicide has taken place. Thus it would be assisted suicide if a person swallows an overdose of drugs that has been provided by a doctor for the purpose of causing death. It would also be assisted suicide if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle into the patient's vein.
It's true that modern technology keeps people alive who previously would have died earlier. A century ago, high blood pressure, pneumonia, appendicitis, and diabetes likely meant death, often accompanied by excruciating pain. Women had shorter life expectancies than men since many died in childbirth. Antibiotics, immunizations, modern surgery and many of today's routine therapies or medications were unknown then.
A lot of people think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is needed so patients won't be forced to remain alive by being "hooked up" to machines. But the law already permits patients or their surrogates to withhold or withdraw unwanted medical treatment even if that increases the likelihood that the patient will die. Thus, no one needs to be hooked up to machines against their will. Neither the law nor medical ethics requires that "everything be done" to keep a person alive. Insistence, against the patient's wishes, that...