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The Morality and Legality of Voluntary Euthanasia

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Essay title: The Morality and Legality of Voluntary Euthanasia

The Morality and Legality of Voluntary Euthanasia

For most people involved in euthanasia they believe that some conditions are so bad that death is a benefit over living. The motive of the person who commits an act of euthanasia is to benefit the one whose death is brought about. Debate about the morality and legality of voluntary euthanasia has only become an issue in the last half of the twentieth century. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not consider life needed to be preserved at any cost and were tolerant of suicide in cases where no relief could be offered to the dying In the sixteenth century, wrters described communities as one that would facilitate the death of those whose lives had become burdensome as a result of ‘torturing and lingering pain’. But it has only been in the last hundred years that there have been concerted efforts to make legal provision for voluntary euthanasia.

Until quite recently there had been no success in obtaining such legal provision. However, in the nineteen seventies and eighties a series of court cases in The Netherlands culminated in agreement being reached between the legal and medical authorities to ensure that no physician would be prosecuted for assisting a patient to die as long as certain guidelines were strictly adhered. In brief, the guidelines were established to permit physicians to practise voluntary euthanasia in instances where a competent patient had made a voluntary and informed decision to die, the patient's suffering was unbearable, there was no way of making that suffering bearable which was acceptable to the patient, and the physician's judgements as to diagnosis and prognosis were confirmed after consultation with another physician. In the nineteen nineties the first legislative approval for voluntary euthanasia was achieved with the passage of a bill in the parliament of Australia's Northern Territory to enable physicians to practise voluntary euthanasia. Subsequent to the Act's proclamation in 1996 it faced a series of legal challenges from opponents of voluntary euthanasia. In 1997 the challenges culminated in the Australian National Parliament overturning the legislation when it prohibited Australian Territories from enacting legislation to permit euthanasia.

In Oregon in the United States legislation was introduced in 1997 to permit physician-assisted suicide when a second referendum clearly endorsed the proposed legislation. Later in 1997 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that there is no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. However, the Court did not preclude individual States from legislating in favour of physician-assisted suicide. The Oregon legislation has, in consequence, remained operative and has been successfully utilised by a number of people.

In November 2000 The Netherlands passed legislation to legalise the practice of voluntary euthanasia. The legislation passed through all the parliamentary stages early in 2001 and so became law. The Belgian parliament passed similar legislation in May 2002.

Advocates of voluntary euthanasia contend that at least five guidelines should be met before considering

the act:

1. suffering from a terminal illness;

2. unlikely to benefit from the discovery of a cure for that illness during what remains of her life expectancy;

3. as a direct result of the illness, either suffering intolerable pain, or only has available a life that is unacceptably burdensome

4. has an enduring, voluntary and competent wish to die

5. unable without assistance to commit suicide,

It should be acknowledged that these conditions are quite restrictive, indeed more restrictive than some would think appropriate. In particular, the conditions concern access only to voluntary euthanasia for those who are terminally ill. While that expression is not free of all ambiguity, for present purposes it can be agreed that it does not include the bringing about of the death of, say, victims of accidents who are rendered quadriplegic or victims of early Alzheimer's Disease.

Those who consider that such cases show the first condition to be too restrictive may nonetheless accept that including them would, at least for the time being, make it far harder to obtain legal protection for helping those terminally ill persons who wish to die. The fifth condition further restricts access to voluntary euthanasia by excluding those capable of ending their own lives, and so will not only be thought unduly restrictive by those who think physician-assisted suicide a better course to follow, but will be considered

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