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The Distinction Between Passive And Active Euthanasia

2166 words - 9 pages

Rachel argues that ‘[T]he distinction between passive and active euthanasia is thought to be crucial for medical ethics. The idea is that it is permissible, at least in some cases, to withhold treatment and allow a patient to die.’ The law has drawn a clear distinction between the removal of life sustaining treatment that causes death and a request for assistance in ending life. Passive euthanasia is considered lawful whereas active euthanasia is unlawful as per the Suicide Act . In Bland a distinction was made between killing through an act and letting die through an omission. It was argued in this instance, that the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration (“ANH”) was held to be an omission and the patient would die as a result of their underlying conditions. To come to this conclusion is illogical, Bland would have continued living but for the removal of ANH, therefore his death was as a result of renal failure due to dehydration and starvation. In reaching this conclusion the court held ANH to be medical treatment and could be withdrawn if it served no purpose, this argument was based on claims of medical futility. Bland can be contrasted with the case R(on the application of Pretty v DPP. Pretty failed in her bid to secure advanced immunity for her husband if he assisted her in ending her life. The court in upheld the contention that assisting suicide would continue to fall within the scope of the Suicide Act. In doing so, it continued to place greater emphasis on the distinction between acts and omissions in terms of assisted dying and withdrawal of life sustaining treatment. To advocate such a position is illogical, as the withdrawal of treatment most likely will involve an act on the part of the physician. Lord Browne-Wilkinson in his judgment in Bland gave recognition to this fact stating that removal of the tube ‘was undoubtedly a positive act’ but it should not construed as such, because this would introduce ‘intolerably fine distinctions’. The distinction of acts and omissions is further complicated by the use of the doctrine of double effect which turns on the distinction of intention. The doctrine allows for physicians to administer sedation to alleviate pain knowing that the result with hasten death. This is permissible because the primary intention is not to kill the patient but relieve pain and suffering. The workings of the doctrine can be illustrated by the cases of R v Cox and R v Moor. In both cases, the doctors acted out of compassion, but Dr. Cox had administered a drug which had no analgesic properties. As such there was no intention to relieve pain and he was subsequently tried and convicted of attempted murder as the death of his patient had been a ‘primary rather than an incidental consequence of his actions’.
The creation of distinction between acts and omissions and intentions is to protect the doctor from incurring liability. Furthermore, taking this approach recognises that the patient is not...

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