What is Euthanasia ?

Euthanasia – formerly called “mercy killing,” – An act or omission, which of itself or by intention causes a person’s death under the pretense of relieving suffering.

This type of killing comes with a number of variations:

  • Active Euthanasia: The provision of a lethal agent which is intended to directly cause death
  • Passive Euthanasia: The withholding or withdrawing of medical treatment or basic care with the intent of causing the patient’s death.
  • Involuntary Euthanasia: Against the person’s expressed wish to live.
  • Non-voluntary Euthanasia: When the person’s expressed wish is not known.

What is the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide?

In euthanasia, one person does something that directly kills another. For example, a doctor gives a lethal injection to a patient.

In assisted suicide, a non-suicidal person knowingly and intentionally provides the means or acts in some way to help a suicidal person kill himself or herself. For example, a doctor writes a prescription for poison, or someone hooks up a face mask and tubing to a canister of carbon monoxide and then instructs the suicidal person on how to push a lever so that she’ll be gassed to death.

For all practical purposes, any distinction between euthanasia and assisted suicide has been abandoned today.

With the increasing emphasis placed on health care providers to contain costs, euthanasia could certainly become a means of cost containment.

  • In the U.S., thousands of people have no medical insurance; studies have shown that the poor and minorities are not given access to available pain control, and managed-care facilities are offering physicians cash bonuses if they don’t provide care for patients.
  • With greater and greater emphasis being placed on managed care, many doctors are at financial risk when they provide treatment for their patients.
  • Legalized euthanasia raises the potential for a profoundly dangerous situation in which doctors could find themselves far better off financially if a seriously ill or disabled person “chooses” to die rather than receive long-term care.
  • Savings to the government may also become a consideration. This could take place if governments cut back on paying for treatment and care and replace them with the “treatment” of death.

For example, immediately after the passage of Measure 16, Oregon’s law permitting assisted suicide, Jean Thorne, the state’s Medicaid Director, announced that physician-assisted suicide would be paid for as “comfort care” under the Oregon Health Plan which provides medical coverage for about 345,000 poor Oregonians.

Within 18 months of Measure 16’s passage, the State of Oregon announced plans to cut back on health care coverage for poor state residents.

In Canada, hospital stays are being shortened while, at the same time, funds have not been made available for home care for the sick and elderly.

Registered nurses are being replaced with less expensive practical nurses. Patients are forced to endure long waits for many types of needed surgery.

At the present time, the State of Oregon has the world’s only law specifically permitting a doctor to prescribe lethal drugs for the purpose of ending a patient’s life.

An attempt to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Washington state failed in 1991.

The following year, voters in California turned down a similar proposal. Interesting note – During the campaign, euthanasia leaders claimed that all opposition was religious, yet the groups opposing the measure that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide included the California Commission on Aging, California Medical

Association, California Nurses Association, California Psychiatric Association and the California State Hospice Association. In addition, all major newspapers throughout the state, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Diego Union Tribune took strong editorial positions against the measure. A referendum to legalize euthanasia and mercy killing in Michigan failed in November 1998.

On November 7, 2000, Maine voters joined ranks with those in Washington State, California and Michigan by defeating a ballot measure that would have legalized assisted suicide. The measure, the Maine Death with Dignity Act (MDWDA), was placed on the ballot as question 1: “Should a terminally ill adult who is of sound mind be allowed to ask for and receive a doctor’s help to die?” The voters responded: 51% no, 49% yes. The Hemlock Society and other well-funded special interest groups supported this effort.

Although euthanasia is widely practiced in the Netherlands, it remains technically illegal. Social and legal acceptance of euthanasia began in Holland in the early 1970’s. A series of court decisions involving the actions of doctors in various cases began carrying out exceptions in the Dutch laws against homicide and mercy killing. Over time, physicians were granted more and more immunity from prosecution if they facilitated their patients’ death under court defined “guidelines.” In December 1993, a law was passed protecting physicians from prosecution if they euthanize their patients following the established guidelines. Officially, euthanasia is illegal except for the exempted cases in which the physicians follow the guidelines.

On 11/28/00, the Dutch Parliament’s Lower House, by a vote of 104-40, passed a bill to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal under certain conditions. This new law will go into effect in early 2001, making the Netherlands the only country in the world to formally legalize premeditated, doctor-induced death.

In 1995 Australia’s Northern Territory approved a euthanasia bill. It went into effect in 1996 and was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997.

Content provided courtesy of pennlife.org

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