Euthanasia, Ethics, and the Law: From Conflict to Compromise?

Euthanasia, Ethics, and the Law: From Conflict to Compromise?

Euthanasia, Ethics, and the Law: From Conflict to Compromise?

Euthanasia, Ethics, and the Law: From Conflict to Compromise?


Euthanasia, Ethics and the Law argues that the law governing the ending of life in England and Wales is unclear, confused and often contradictory. The book shows that the rules are in competition because the ethical principles underlying the rules are also diverse and conflicting.

In mounting his case Richard Huxtable considers some familiar and topical debates, including assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, examining such situations as the Dianne Pretty litigation and Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. The book also enters some important, but less well-charted areas, looking at the advent of 'death tourism' and the real status of involuntary and passive euthanasia in English law, in addition to clarifying the confusion that surrounds the use of powerful painkillers like morphine. Dealing with both legal and ethical issues, the text concludes that the time has come to more openly adopt a compromise position - one that more honestly recognises and accommodates the competing values, whilst also restoring a measure of coherence to the law.


Modern medicine has triumphed over many previously incurable and chronic conditions. In the care of the dying patient, in the developed world at least, palliative medicine frequently offers a death free from painful and distressing symptoms. However, this is not a complete victory, since some patients continue to suffer and some reject the options on offer, preferring instead to receive help in securing an earlier death. Against this backdrop, patients, philosophers, pressure groups and even some healthcare professionals argue that prohibitive attitudes towards euthanasia should give way to admitting that, sometimes, killing can be a part of caring.

English law claims to forbid the practise of euthanasia, even when this is what the suffering patient desires, and it also condemns related activities like providing assistance in committing suicide. Patients such as Dianne Pretty, who had motor neuro>EHRR 1). Parliamentarians also, like Lord Joffe in his Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, have failed to persuade the lawmakers that the traditional resistance to allowing the deliberate causing of death should be ousted in favour of an approach that prioritises patient choice and the dictates of mercy.

In this book I will examine all these features of the ethical debate about euthanasia, paying particular attention to how they can – and should – shape the rules that make up English law. In doing so, I strive to diagnose a problem with our recent discussions – that they are marked (indeed, marred) by seemingly irresolvable and unrelenting conflict – and to provide a different prognosis for their development.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the arguments most commonly presented by proponents and opponents of euthanasia. The first problem I examine is that the discussants are not always necessarily talking about the same thing: robust attempts to define the word ‘euthanasia’ are scarce, and the plethora of (alleged) synonyms (like ‘mercy killing’) and distinctions (like ‘active’ as opposed to ‘passive’ euthanasia) invite misunderstanding and conflicting interpretations. It becomes apparent that the labels chosen can reflect very different underlying moral perspectives, which tend to be premised on one of three views of the value of human life.

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