What Is Euthanasia?

  • Euthanasia is when a doctor or another health care professional deliberately ends a patient’s life
  • A World Medical Association declaration in 2019 defined euthanasia as a “physician deliberately administering a lethal substance or carrying out an intervention to cause the death of a patient with decision-making capacity at the patient’s own voluntary request.

How Does Euthanasia Take Place?

  • Typically, Euthanasia is administered by a doctor dispensing lethal drugs, for example, by injection. Euthanasia can take place in three ways:

Voluntary – where the euthanasia is at the patient’s request
Non-Voluntary – where the euthanasia is carried out in the absence of the patients’ intentions 
Involuntary – where the euthanasia take place against the wishes/consent of the patient

Ordinarily, involuntary euthanasia would be a form or unlawful killing, such as murder manslaughter, but the practice is already taking place in jurisdictions such as the Netherlands. E.g. see examples of this practice reported in the news here and here. The BBC news reported that: “The doctor allegedly sedated the woman, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, then she asked her family to hold her down as she administered a lethal drug.”

What Is Assisted Suicide?

  • Assisted Suicide (also called Physician Assisted Death/Physician Aid in Dying) is when a healthcare professional or another person assists a patient to end their own life, usually by providing lethal drugs for the patient to ingest.
  • A World Medical Association declaration in 2019 defined assisted suicide as “cases in which, at the voluntary request of a patient with decision-making capacity, a physician deliberately enables a patient to end his or her own life by prescribing or providing medical substances with the intent to bring about death.

Is It Not The Case That Doctors Already Prescribe Medication To Patients (e.g. Cancer Patients) That Will Ease Their Pain, Knowing That It Will Also Hasten Death? Isn’t This Just The Same As Euthanasia?

  • Sometimes doctors administer drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, where such drugs are sometimes to minimise a patient’s pain.  Doctors know that this process may risk renal failure but know these drugs will make a huge difference to the person’s pain and quality of life. With Euthanasia the intention is entirely different – it is to deliberately end a life and nothing else.

What Has Happened In Other Countries Since The Introduction of Euthanasia/ Assisted Suicide?

Euthanasia and assisted suicide has been introduced in a small number of countries around the world. However, the evidence is clear that when these practices are introduces, the consequences are catastrophic for the most vulnerable members of society.

Firstly, the sheer number of people dying in this way has increased exponentially:

Oregon (USA): 16 (1998) rose to 188 (2019), an increase of 1075%
Netherlands 1626 (2002) rose to 6361 (2019), an increase of 291%
Belgium 259 (2002/3), rose to 2655 (2019), an increase of  925%
Washington (USA): 36 (2009) rose to 238 (2018), an increase of 561%
Canada 1015 (2016), rose to 5631 (2019), an increase of 455%

Secondly, there are serious problems with euthanasia and assisted suicide in the jurisdictions inwhich it has been legalised.

In the Netherlands people with non-terminal psychiatric illnesses can be euthanised. In January 2018, Aurelia Brouwers (29) told BBC news about her situation: “I’m 29 years old and I’ve chosen to be voluntarily euthanised. I’ve  chosen this because I have a lot of mental health issues.

What Are Many Older People Concerned About The Introduction Of Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide?

When euthanasia and assisted suicide are introduced, implicit and explicit pressure mount on older people to consider euthanasia. They are made feel, or can themselves come to the conclusion, that they are a personal or financial burden on others, and thus should avail of it.

A 2020 Canadian report estimated that widening Canada’s existing euthanasia laws would save up to $149 million per annum.

It noted that:“Expanding access to MAID will result in a net reduction in health care costs for the provincial governments.” (see the report here).

Conclusions like this compound fears that in the future, utilitarian thinking combined with reports like this will provide a basis and motivation for Governments to support and even encourage euthanasia by those most likely to use the States healthcare budget – older people.

Attitudes towards older people and older peoples’ illness are also negatively affected by legalised euthanasia. The Netherlands is a prime example of this.

In 2020, a Dutch parliamentarian proposed an amendment to the current euthanasia law providing for euthanasia to be available to over 75s who are simply ‘tired of life’.