The Euthanasia Debate

Euthanasia is a subject that mixes controversial aspects of philosophy law and ethics to bring about a fusion of heated controversy.

Some countries like Australia and Mexico have made euthanasia illegal; counties like Netherlands and Belgium have legalized it.

These differences among the various laws of the countries can hint at just how complex the issue of euthanasia is. Euthanasia is itself divided into passive and active euthanasia. Active euthanasia or ‘killing’ takes place when a person (medical professionals or otherwise) undertake an action that causes the death of a patient. Passive euthanasia or “letting die” can occurs when a patient dies because the necessary lifesaving treatments or activities are purposely not done.

This contentious issue has divided people. A lot of people think there’s no distinction between the two as the end result is same- a patient is dead out of mercy. Also even acts of omission are done intentionally which makes it no different than active euthanasia which a deliberate though out process.  However some people are advocates of passive euthanasia because it allows the ‘liberty ‘of death to someone without moral implications of actually having undertaken an action that brought about the death of a person. Meanwhile the advocates of active euthanasia believe that their stance allows a patient to die a faster sometimes maybe even painless death.

There’s another school of thought however that believes euthanasia in any form is wrong as we can’t play god, never mind the shades of grey in active and passive euthanasia. It is morally unacceptable to allow someone’s death. And there is a lot of room for people to abuse this power. Laziness, assumed moral superiority, vested interest etc can cause unnecessary deaths, and since every medical case is different in so many ways it is wrong to generalize the so called benefits of euthanasia.

Also making this murky issue murkier is the consent of the patient itself. If the patient is not in a state of giving an opinion it is up to others to decide his fate which is a huge responsibility. If the patient itself is willing to die, do our moral values allow someone to die on purpose?

If we look at history euthanasia has been part of our mainstream culture for the longest time. For example ancient Greeks and Romans supported euthanasia, since then our views have been supporting and condemning euthanasia across various timelines in history. For example euthanasia was supported by Samuel Williams in the 1870s but the medical community in 1885 opposed euthanasia. Williams attempt was labeled as an attempt to make the “physician don the robes of an executioner.” Interestingly during the Great Depression support for Euthanasia flared up again.

The most famous case that demanded a closer look at the euthanasia debate is obviously the Aruna Shanbaug case. That case resulted in a landmark decision of allowing passive euthanasia in the country in 2011. After being in a vegetative state for 42 years after the sexual assault, Shanbaug died of pneumonia. The consequences of the trauma she faced brought up a fierce debate in India regarding life and death. Pinky Virani who is central to the euthanasia debate said “Aruna’s gift to the country is the passive euthanasia law. She also started a dialogue about patient’s rights though her own rights were denied to her”. Ms Virani she filed a euthanasia petition before the Supreme Court in 2009 and fought to better Aruna’s condition in various ways.

Aruna’s condition did not allow any room for her own consent but there have been cases where patients themselves have asked the government for euthanasia. Consider Sue Rodriguez – she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and campaigned for a change in Canada’s laws where physician assisted suicide was illegal. “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?” She took her own life in 1994 with the help of an anonymous doctor.

In some cases the family themselves advocate to end a patient’s life if they feel their loved ones are suffering and there is no hope for improvement. Nancy Cruzan had an accident in the 80s and was diagnosed to be in a vegetative state. Her family went to court to remove her from life support and won the court’s approval to do so and Nancy died eventually in the 1990.

People are also afraid of the power of Euthanasia which can be misused in so many ways. For example Dr. Virginia Soares de Souza was accused of killing seven patients in order to create space for those patients with private insurance.

While there has been such an intense debate on Euthanasia for humans, we also have to consider Animal Euthanasia. Animals/pets are “put to sleep” due to a variety of reasons – terminal illness, old age and even research. This too is subject to some criticism as with animals, consent is out of the question and sometimes inhuman ways are used to end the lives of healthy animals.

Euthanasia is an intense discussion and it is unlikely that we can come to consensus anytime soon. With so many points of views the debate is as multi-faceted as it can get. But an open dialogue with respect for opposite views can surely help us in understanding this incredibly complex issue.


Vaibhavi Parmar
An article by:
Vaibhavi Parmar

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