Is Euthanasia morally acceptable? When does a duty of care arise?

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Compared to other professions, sad to say, the profession of medicine is the only profession which is very vulnerable to criticisms from the public for their acts during their course of duty of care. This is so because the doctors belonging to the medical fraternity deal with precious commodities, which come in the form of human life. In ancient times, the medical profession was placed on the highest pedestal and commanded public awe and respect. Today, such an image is clearly wavering. The medical profession in the recent past has been increasingly confronted with legal issues on mercy killing, both within the public or the government.


Scholars all over the world, namely doctors, lawyers, philosophers, and religious leaders have been debating on this issue for many years. Euthanasia or 'mercy killing' is the intentional killing for the benefit of the person. Mostly, it is performed on the request of the person himself; however there are certain cases whereby that dying person could not make his own request because some may be severely unconscious which means to say in a vegetative state. 

The Pro-Life Alliance defines it as: 'Any action or omission intended to end the life of a patient on the grounds that his or her life is not worth living.' The Voluntary Euthanasia Society looks to the word's Greek origins - 'eu' and 'thanatos', which together mean 'a good death' - and say a modern definition is: 'A good death brought about by a doctor providing drugs or an injection to bring a peaceful end to the dying process.' Three classes of euthanasia can be identified - passive euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and active euthanasia - although not all groups would acknowledge them as valid terms." 

The sanctity of human life

What does ‘life is sacred’ or ‘the sanctity of life’ mean? For Christians, it means that human life not only has its origin in God but also is in the image of God. Humans have the capacity to reflect their Creator in their intellect, self-consciousness, free will to choose, to love, to delight in, to relate to God and others to be a person. Other people may not have a strong belief in God but may still believe that ‘life is sacred’ in other words, special, to be preserved, to be treated as an intrinsic value. Generally, the ‘life is sacred’ stance upholds the notion of ‘human life’ as involved in and yet somehow independent of, the various circumstances of ‘human lives’. Humanists, on the other hand, see that all moral values come from the circumstances ‘on the ground’ of particular human lives and so implicitly reject notions of life being sacred. The sanctity of human life prescribes that human life may thus not be terminated or shortened because of considerations of the patient’s convenience or usefulness, or even our sympathy with the suffering of the patient. In Judaism suicide and euthanasia are both forms of prohibited homicide.

In the light of life’s sanctity, euthanasia is seen to be like a crime because all human beings are to be valued, irrespective of age, sex, race, religion, social status or their potential for achievement. Human life is a basic good as opposed to an instrumental good, a good in itself rather than as a means to an end. Human life is sacred because it's a gift from God. Therefore, the intentionally taking of human life should be prohibited except in self-defence or the legitimate defence of others. We should not treat ourselves as a means to our own ends. And this means that we should not end our lives just because it seems the best way of putting an end to our suffering. To do that is not to respect our inherent worth.

The slippery slope arguments

Coming to the slippery slope, many people worry that if voluntary euthanasia were to become legal, it would not be long before involuntary euthanasia would start to happen. It can be concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused. We were also concerned that vulnerable people - the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed - would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death. Lord Walton, Chairman, House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics looking into euthanasia, 1993 who commented on the slippery slope argument, where, in general form, it says that if we allow something relatively harmless today, we may start a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted. Those who oppose this argument say that properly drafted legislation can draw a firm barrier across the slippery slope.

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If we change the law and accept voluntary euthanasia, we will not be able to keep it under control for it would never be legalised without proper regulation and control mechanisms in place. Doctors may soon start killing people without bothering with their permission where there is a huge difference between killing people who ask for death under appropriate circumstances, and killing people without their permission. Very few people are so lacking in moral understanding that they would ignore this distinction and that many are so lacking in intellect that they can't make the distinction above. Any doctor who would ...

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