Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation

By John Keown | Go to book overview

6
Legal hypocrisy?

A third argument prominently deployed in favour of legalising VAE is that the present law is hypocritical. It is argued that, while the law prohibits VAE in theory, it is unenforced in practice, and that this inaction against what is a common practice betrays tacit approval. In other words, while the law ostensibly sets its face against VAE, it nevertheless winks at it. The law's alleged hypocrisy is compounded, the argument continues, by the fact that while it prohibits doctors from administering or handing lethal drugs to patients it nevertheless allows doctors intentionally to end patients' lives, and help patients end their own lives, in other ways.


The current law

VAE as murder

Before evaluating these criticisms, we need first to consider what the state of the law is. We shall outline the law in England, though the law in other jurisdictions whose law is derived from English law, such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is similar.1 To begin with, we shall consider which of the three competing moral approaches outlined in chapter 4 the law adopts.

The law has never adopted vitalism: doctors have never been under a duty to preserve life at all costs.2 Nor has the law historically accepted the 'Quality of life' approach – that only those with 'worthwhile' lives have a right not to be killed. Rather, the law has traditionally adopted the inviolability principle. In particular, it has always been murder for a doctor actively and intentionally to hasten a patient's death. It is murder,

____________________
1
See generally Margaret Otlowski,Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law (1997).
2
See p. 231.

-58-

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Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Foreword xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Table of Cases xvi
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Definitions 7
  • 1 - 'Voluntary Euthanasia' 9
  • 2 - Intended V. Foreseen Life-Shortening 18
  • 3 - 'Physician-Assisted Suicide' 31
  • Part II - The Ethical Debate: Human Life, Autonomy, Legal Hypocrisy, and the Slippery Slope 37
  • 4 - The Value of Human Life 39
  • 5 - The Value of Autonomy 52
  • 6 - Legal Hypocrisy? 58
  • 7 - The Slippery Slope Arguments 70
  • Part III - The Dutch Experience: Controlling Vae? Condoning Nvae? 81
  • 8 - The Guidelines 83
  • 9 - The First Survey: the Incidence of 'Euthanasia' 91
  • 10 - Breach of the Guidelines 103
  • 11 - The Slide Towards Nvae 115
  • 12 - The Second Survey 125
  • 13 - The Dutch in Denial? 136
  • Part IV - Australia and the United States 151
  • 14 - The Northern Territory: Rotti 153
  • 15 - Oregon: the Death with Dignity Act 167
  • Part V - Expert Opinion 181
  • 16 - Expert Committees 183
  • 17 - Supreme Courts 191
  • 18 - Medical Associations 208
  • Part VI - Passive Euthanasia: Withholding/withdrawing Treatment and Tube-Feeding with Intent to Kill 215
  • 19 - The Tony Bland Case 217
  • 20 - Beyond Bland: the Bma Guidance on Withholding/withdrawing Medical Treatment 239
  • 21 - The Winterton Bill 260
  • Conclusions 273
  • Afterword: the Diane Pretty Case 282
  • Bibliography 292
  • Index 303
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