The Euthanasia Debate
The object of this chapter is to review and analyse critically the 'euthanasia debate'. The debate regarding the practice and legalization of active voluntary euthanasia has existed for many years1 and there is already a wealth of literature on this subject from a variety of disciplines, including law, medicine, theology, and philosophy. Consequently, this chapter seeks to review the existing literature to consider the principal arguments that have been advanced both for and against the legalization of active voluntary euthanasia. Although many of the issues are legal in nature, this chapter necessarily involves consideration also of non-legal arguments. An attempt will be made to analyse critically the competing arguments and arrive at some conclusion as to whether active voluntary euthanasia should be legalized. It must be emphasized that the principal concern here is what the law ought to be rather than the question of the morality of active euthanasia apart from the law. For the purposes of this analysis, the issue of active voluntary euthanasia will be considered in general terms only, without reference to any particular proposal for legalization, leaving for later consideration how legalization could be most appropriately effected.2
It must be recognized from the outset that the debate about active voluntary euthanasia is in many respects indeterminable and intractable. Euthanasia is a controversial subject which inevitably provokes intense emotional debate and gives rise to strong convictions which do not readily lend themselves to consensus. Where such conflicts of values exist, with seemingly little middle ground, it is unlikely that a resolution can be reached which will meet with universal approval. Indeed, in a society with a plurality of widely differing moral views and convictions, one cannot expect unanimity on this issue.
Despite the difficulties in this area, there is a pressing need for the issue of active voluntary euthanasia to be addressed. Attitudes to death have been changing. What has traditionally been a taboo subject is now increas____________________