Medical Key Issues - Euthanasia


Where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, one of the 'safeguards' is that EAS is prohibited for people suffering from depression. Some doctors however, are making exceptions and assisting clinically depressed people to die. Depressed people who are elderly or have disabilities are especially being allowed to kill themselves instead of being treated. Activists say this is evidence of the discrimination that exists towards people with disabilities.

Infanticide - Infant euthanasia

Infant euthanasia is practiced around the world, and advocates believe it should be legalised so it can be regulated. Although infant euthanasia frequently comes from a parent, parents make their decision on the information they get. If they are given misleading and negative information of their child's condition they may easily feel the child would be better off dead. Neonatologists, palliative care experts and disability rights activists do not agree.

Pain management

One of the leading figures in the pro-euthanasia movement in the Netherlands, Dr Pieter Admiraal, has said, "There are many good reasons for euthanasia, but pain control is not one of them." It is more the fear of unbearable pain that brings support for legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The WHO Expert Committee recommended that governments devote specific attention to cancer pain relief and palliative care before considering laws allowing euthanasia.

Palliative care

Palliative care is about protecting the patient from their illness by effective control of pain, relief of mental distress and focussing on the patient's quality of life. Not all doctors and nurses have received extensive training in palliative care and pain management. For some doctors, aware of their inadequacies to treat pain, or provide relief from other ailments, euthanasia and assisted suicide provides a simple solution.

Persistant Vegetative State - PVS

The term Persistant Vegetative State, although in common usuage since it was first used in the 1970s, is held by some to be degrading since a human can never be a vegetable, who suggest a better description would be 'comatose'. What is largely unknown, outside of medical circles, is that more than half of all patients diagnosed as PVS eventually regain consciousness. Although the terms PVS and 'brain death' are often used interchangeably, they differ greatly in meaning.

Doctors as healers

Doctors enter medicine out of a desire to save lives and relieve suffering, not out of a desire to have to kill their patients. It is feared that legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide will undermine the doctor patient relationship and corrupt the character of doctors. They might decide that the patient would simply be "better off dead"...This would result in an overall decline in the quality of medical care.

The Hippocratic Oath

In ancient pagan times doctors had a dual role, they could heal and also kill. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) believed that the virtuous doctor must reject any role in killing, and be devoted to the arts of healing.

Position of Medical Associations Worldwide

Almost every medical association rejects euthanasia and assisted suicide, believing that EAS contravenes the doctor's role as a healer. The Worldwide Medical Association encourages members to abstain from such practices if they reside in countries where it is not considered illegal.

Medical Ethics

The basis of the moral framework for medical practice has been developed gradually over several thousand years, and is therefore well established, whereas guidelines for professional behaviour must reflect the changing social environment in which doctors practise. Bioethics is a relatively new field of philosophy that engages in debate in the areas of morality in the context of health care and biotechnology. There are conflicting views over the ethical aspects of EAS.

Healthcare rationing

Economic necessity, driven by falling healthcare budgets, is already necessitating rationing of some healthcare services and treatments. There are fears that patients will be pressured into choosing assisted suicide if it is a legal option. Most New Zealand hospital beds are occupied by the elderly, but in the coming years there will be huge increase in younger patients with diabetes needing expensive dialysis treatment.