Euthanasia (from the Greek for good death) is the act of terminating the life of a disabled or terminally ill person or animal, for instance in order to end unbearable suffering. Under Anglo-American law, involuntary euthanasia of humans is illegal--although there are a few exception now in the United States (see below). Most religious leaders see all forms of human euthanasia as murder.[Citation Needed]
Most libertarians and many liberals support legalization in some circumstances of voluntary euthanasia, i.e. the termination of a dying patient's life upon his/her own explicit request. Voluntary euthanasia has been legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium, where large majorities of the population support the right of terminally ill patients to die at a moment of their own choosing, and in Switzerland and the US state of Oregon, where the people explicitly endorsed legalization in plebiscites. Legalized euthanasia has limitations on when it may be used, such as the approval of a number of physicians when a terminally ill patient suffers from excruciating pain. Opponents of euthanasia maintain that this rarely constitutes an obstacle, as in practice all it requires is a few physicians to authorize it, and that legalization thus violates the sanctity of human life. They also fear legalization could be a slippery slope, leading to the planned and involuntary termination of all life that is deemed "unworthy", as in the Nazis' program to kill the mentally and physically handicapped. Supporters of legalized voluntary euthanasia, on the other hand, feel that a complete ban would unnecessarily prolong the suffering of some terminally ill patients and thus contravene the Gospel's teaching of compassion. They are convinced that the rule of law in democratic societies prevents excesses such as the euthanasia program of Nazi Germany.
The widely reported withdrawal of a feeding tube from the disabled and comatose Terri Schiavo, with a court order prohibiting anyone from bringing her water, is an example of involuntary euthanasia. The Texas Futile Care Law, which allows a medical provider to override a family's wishes and withhold lifesaving care, is another example of the legalization, in precisely circumscribed circumstances, of involuntary euthanasia.
Of recent concern are erroneous reports (July 2009) that Section 1233 E & F (pp. 426-433), of the proposed House Government Health Plan establishes mandatory end-of-life counseling for senior citizens over age 65, every five years, or sooner if beneficiary becomes ill. This would provide Medicare patients with counseling on "the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration" and other end of life treatments.
Those who warn that the liberalization of laws against euthanasia will lead to involuntary killing cite studies such as the 1991 Remmelink Report, which was the first official Dutch government examination of the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands. This report was based on medical practice throughout 1990, and was later repeated, with its findings being reported in 1996. The report found that of the 130,000 deaths in the Netherlands each year, in over 1,000 cases physicians admitted they actively caused or hastened death without any request from the patient. While "active termination of life upon the patient's request" made up only 1.8% of cases of euthanasia in the year of the study, when instances of causing death without request are added, or intentionally reducing the lives of both conscious and unconscious patients, then the actual relative frequency of euthanasia may have constituted up to 20% of all deaths in the year of the study.
The report revealed,
- 2,300 instances of euthanasia on request;
- 14% of these victims were fully competent.
- 72% had never given any indication that they would want their lives terminated.
- 400 of assisted suicide; 1,000 instances of life-ending actions without patient request or consent (an average of 3 per day);
- 8,750 patients in whom life-sustaining treatment was withdrawn or withheld without request, 'partly with the purpose' (4,750) or 'with the explicit purpose' (4,000) of shortening life;
- 8,100 cases of morphine overdose 'partly with the purpose' (6,750) or 'with the explicit purpose' (1,350) of shortening life;
- 5,800 cases of withdrawing or withholding treatment on explicit request 'partly with the purpose' (4,292) or 'with the explicit purpose' (1,508) of shortening life (6).
- This indicates that there were up to 23,359 instances of doctors deciding, by commission or or omission, to hasten death.
The State Commission on Euthanasia in 1987 had recommended that Non-Voluntary Euthanasia should not be an offense. In 1991 a Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) committee condoned the killing of patients in persistent coma.
An additional study by sociologists in South Australia, reported in 1994, found that 19% of doctors surveyed had deliberately ended someone's life, with their the answers revealing that in 49% of those occasions they had done so without the patient's request.
Also, in Belgium a survey of deaths registered during the first four months of 1998 found that over 10% of deaths were due to euthanasia, including the use of drugs given by doctors to hasten death, "without the explicit request of the patient".
Studies of the results of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act have shown much different results. In the ten years between the law's passage, in 1997, and the time of the retrospective study, 341 people chose to end their lives under the terms of the law. Under the law a physician can only write the prescription for the medication while the patient must actually take the medication.
- Texas Statute Advance Directives Act
- Earl Blumenauer, "My Near Death Panel Experience," New York Times Nov. 14, 2009
- HOUSE DEMOCRAT (OBAMA) HEALTH CARE PLAN
- LifeNews.com, Lawmakers Confirm House Health Care Bill Promotes Euthanasia Among Elderly, July 24, 2009
- Van der Maas PJ et al. Euthanasia and Other Decisions Concerning the End of Life. Elsevier Science Publications, Amsterdam. 1992
- Van der Maas PJ, van ver Wal G, Haverkate I, de Graaf CML, Kester J et al. Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and other Medical Practices Involving the End of Life in the Netherlands. 1990-1995. NEnglJMed 1996; 335: 1699-1705
- Non-Voluntary Euthanasia Brian Pollard, MB BS, FANZCA, Grad Cert Bioeth, Sydney, Australia
- Keown J. The Law and Practice of Euthanasia in the Netherlands. Law Q Rev 1992; 108: 51-78
- Meier DE, Emmons CA, Wallenstein S, Quill T, Morrison RS, Cassel CK. A National Survey of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States. NEnglJMed 1998; 338: 1193-1201.
- BBC News. 11/24/2000, Doctors `help kill one in 10 Belgians
- Aungst, H. (2008). 'Death with dignity'. Geriatrics, 63(12), 20-22