Schools Training

Medical Ethics: A Brief Overview of Euthanasia Practices

26 JUN 2012
Career Path : Healthcare

People who work in a healthcare setting are often confronted with ethical questions pertaining to medical practices. It is true that most healthcare professionals are not required to adopt a particular moral stance on every single ethical issue. But still, it is important for them, and everyone else for that matter, to think about these situations, and to contemplate their own moral positioning from an objective standpoint.


One such issue is that of euthanasia. Readers must note that this article does not claim to provide any answers or suggest any definitive ethical standpoints regarding the issue of euthanasia, but rather; this article aims to provide a brief overview of said issue.


Euthanasia is a form of terminating a life with the intent of relieving that life from pain or suffering. Also referred to as “mercy killing,” euthanasia is in large part considered illegal in all parts of the world, with the exception of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Although these countries have officially legalized euthanasia, there are many stipulations and conditions that must be adhered to, and the legality of such a practice is determined on a case-by-case basis.


The differing legal status of euthanasia across countries speaks to the inconclusiveness of its moral ranking. Students aspiring for a career in healthcare will likely come across health courses that touch on ethical issues such as this one.  Coming to a conclusion is rarely the goal of such courses, and instead the focus is to have students explore varying perspectives on ethical quandaries.


Voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia are the two main forms of euthanasia that are most commonly subject to debate. Voluntary euthanasia occurs when a person assists someone in ending their life painlessly because continuing to live would involve prolonged suffering.  This form of euthanasia is voluntary because consent was given by the person whose life would end, and that person has actively communicated their wish to die rather than to live.


Non-voluntary euthanasia occurs someone practices mercy killing on an individual who has not given overt consent to do so because they are physically unable to. For example, terminally ill infants or people in permanent vegetative states are unable to give their consent to having their lives terminated, thus consent is made on their behalf (typically by family members and physicians). The notion is that if in fact these individuals had the ability to give their consent, they would prefer to end their life rather than suffer a life of constant pain.


The ethical debate concerning euthanasia is a complicated and long-lived one. Regardless of whether or not you work in a healthcare setting or have had healthcare training, coming to some sort of definitive ethical position is no easy task, and more often than not people are left hovering somewhere between the pro side and the con side.



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