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How is Euthanasia Different From Assisted Suicide?

In terms of a definition Euthanasia (from the Greek meaning “good death”) refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. Euthanasia may be conducted with consent (voluntary euthanasia) or without consent (involuntary euthanasia). Involuntary euthanasia is conducted where an individual makes a decision for another person incapable of doing so.

Euthanasia may be conducted passively, non-actively, and actively. Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, or the distribution of a medication to relieve pain, knowing that it may also result in death.

Non-active euthanasia entails the withdrawing of life support and is more controversial. Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill and is the most controversial means.

Assisted suicide or Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) has been described as the deliberate hastening of death by a terminally ill, yet competent patient, with assistance from a doctor, family member, or another individual. This would mostly likely be via a prescription for medication for the patient to use with the primary intention of ending his or her own life.

Assisted suicide can be seen as a form of euthanasia where the patient actively takes the last step in their death, yet the term “assisted suicide” is contrasted with “active euthanasia”. This is where the difference between providing the means and actively administering lethal medicine is considered all important. For example, Swiss law allows assisted suicide, while all forms of active euthanasia (like lethal injection) remain prohibited.

To those who are pro-assisted suicide and see it from a more emotive viewpoint, assisted suicide is very different from euthanasia. They see that it depends upon the individual making a choice to die and being of sound enough mind to persuade two doctors their decision is rational, and that they have not been subject to coercion before being given the means to die. The chief executive of Dignity In Dying, “distinguishes between maliciously encouraging someone to commit suicide and compassionately supporting someone’s decision to die.”

To others, who are against any forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the ongoing debate is a vehicle that opens a can of worms around who should be allowed to die and when, rather than one of semantics. They would argue that it is fundamentally against the role of medicine and believe that doctors should not assist in the hastening of death in any circumstances because to do so is incompatible with their role as a healer. Arguments in a similar vein question that we are missing the point around the fact that it is palliative care that should be looked at more closely in the UK. They suggest a move away from sentimental arguments about ‘putting people out of their misery’ – many of whom, it has been suggested, might feel an obligation to follow this route, if available, in order to relieve their family of the burden of their terminal situation.

As such an initial discussion suggests, even basic definitions are controversial and open to interpretation. It merely touches on and yet highlights the complex legal, ethical and moral views and issues that could impact both those individuals who wish to have the choice to die, and the nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals that care for them.

About Author
The author works for a website specialised in nursing jobs and nurse jobs in the UK.

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