Euthanasia

By Diaconescu, Amelia Mihaela | Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Euthanasia


Diaconescu, Amelia Mihaela, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice


ABSTRACT.

Along with the ageing of the population and progresses in medicine, a significant number of very sick people are maintained alive, thanks to various techniques, which creates an inconstant boundary between life and death. The scientific development of these medical techniques raises complex issues and engenders debates: social debate regarding the high cost of treatment in terminal phases, ethical debate because the struggle for life is a fundamental requirement of our societies and medical ethics in particular; religious debate "to not kill" and legal debate, the right to respect for life which prohibits and prosecutes homicide; but also the right to respect and guarantee the individual's autonomy, the self-determination of the subject with regard to his own body.

Keywords: euthanasia, assisted suicide, the right to life

The boundaries of the right to life are difficult to determine. Part of this problem is the existence or not of an alleged "right to die with dignity." The European states, for example, approach this problem differently, although they are all part of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Euthanasia is deliberate killing committed under the impulse of compassion in order to relieve the physical pains of a person suffering from an incurable disease and whose death is, therefore, inevitable.1 Euthanasia existed in the human history from ancient times, being tolerated or rejected, as it happens nowadays.

The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide lies in how to perform this action. In the case of euthanasia, the physician administers the lethal medication himself. In the case of assisted suicide the patient administers himself the medication recommended by the physician. The medication is specially adapted to precipitate death and to minimize the suffering as much as possible. This is a characteristic that differentiates the physician assisted suicide from other medical decisions to suppress life.2

Within the current law, euthanasia may be related to the question of homicide incrimination and especially to the position of the passive subject of the crime. The movement in favor of improving the condition of the patients in terminal phase, in order to avoid that they endure long suffering and prejudice their dignity, has manifested along with the movement in favor of abortion. Euthanasia brings into conflict two groups, called by the Americans pro life ana pro choice, groups outlined in the United States ever since the 1970s. Therefore, this hypothesis may not contain the cases of patients whose vital functions are maintained with mechanical assistance. The issue of expression of a deliberate and prior consent appeared mostly in the case of patients with mental disability. In Massachusetts, it was decided that when the patient is unable to express his consent, due to mental disability, the physicians are obligated to bring the case to courts in order for them to decide on the solution allowed.3

However, we have to make reference to cases such as Dr. J. Kevorkian's case who was sentenced by the Court of the State of Michigan, on March 26th 1999, for the crime of murder, consisting of carrying out some acts of euthanasia in 130 cases.4 The attitude towards the dying people constitutes a "carrefour" issue between humanities, religion, law and medicine. In such states, deliberate killing is what was called euthanasia during ancient times sweet death upon request, nowadays considered death with dignity.

Along with the ageing of the population and progresses in medicine, a significant number of very sick people are maintained alive, thanks to various techniques, which creates an inconstant boundary between life and death. The scientific development of these medical techniques raises complex issues and engenders debates: social debate regarding the high cost of treatment in terminal phases, ethical debate because the struggle for life is a fundamental requirement of our societies and medical ethics in particular; religious debate "to not kill" and legal debate, the right to respect for life, which prohibits and prosecutes homicide; but also the right to respect and guarantee the individual's autonomy, the self-determination of the subject with regard to his own body. …

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