The Right to Assisted Suicide
Recently, a terminally ill British woman lost a high-profile court battle to take her own life in a test case of whether Britain will permit assisted suicide. Wheelchair-bound Diane Pretty, a 43-year-old mother of two, has waged a lengthy legal fight to allow her husband to kill her without being prosecuted. Pretty, who contracted motor neuron disease two years ago, which is a muscle-wasting disease, lost her bid to have an assisted suicide. She has had every type of medical treatment available, but they have all failed her and her last wish was to be allowed to die. (BBC; November 28, 2001) The pro-euthanasia lobby backed her and saw her case as their best chance of changing the law.
If this were you or someone you knew, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you allow the woman to have her wish and take her own life?
Many people think the act of assisted suicide and euthanasia are the same, but they are different. Euthanasia, either voluntary or involuntary, is the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. The key word here is "intentional". If death is not intended, it is not an act of euthanasia. When the person who is killed has requested to be killed, this is an act of voluntary euthanasia. When the person who is killed made an expressed wish to the contrary, this is a form of involuntary euthanasia. The definition of assisted suicide is when someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that it will be used for this purpose. When a doctor helps people to kill themselves it is called "physician assisted suicide."
An easy way to distinguish between these two acts, euthanasia and assisted suicide, 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 person a lethal injection or putting a plastic bag over their head to suffocate them 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.
Euthanasia is legal in only a few places. Oregon, the Netherlands and Belgium are the only jurisdictions in the world where laws specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Oregon permits assisted suicide. The Netherlands and Belgium permit both euthanasia and assisted suicide. (Euthanasia Info 2)
Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a major issue in our...