Euthanasia

[1] Introduction

[2] Definition of Euthanasia

[3] Arguments against Euthanasia

[4] Arguments in favour of Euthanasia

[5] Euthanasia and Public Policy

[6] Current State of Affairs in Austria

[7] Conclusion

[8] Map of the Legality of Euthanasia

[9] Reference List

[10] Java Script Example

[1] Introduction

In most countries of the world euthanasia is forbidden by law. Nevertheless, in some countries, namely the Autonomous Community of Andalusia in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Thailand and the US states of Oregon and Washington, mercy killing has been decriminalized. (Smartt, 2007; “Luxembourg says ‘yes’”, 2008; Woodward, 2008) The numerous debates of the past show an ongoing rethinking. Should people in civilized society be allowed to die in dignity and without pain? (“Ethical Problems”, 2005)

To answer this question it is necessary to raise another question. Is euthanasia justifiable? (Cranford et al., 1991) There are various substantial arguments in favor of the deliberate killing of a person for the benefit of that person and also a lot of religious, ethical and practical arguments against euthanasia. (“Overview”, 2005)

This dossier will give a short definition of euthanasia and then discuss the positions of proponents and opponents. It will also go into the question of euthanasia and public policy. Finally the current state of affairs concerning euthanasia in Austria will be analyzed.

[2] Definition of Euthanasia

Following the article “Ethics of euthanasia – introduction” from BBC Religion and Ethics, “Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of a person for the benefit of that person.” (2005, p. 1) Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines euthanasia as “an act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”. (2008)

Indeed euthanasia is an umbrella term including different forms of mercy killing. Most common is the distinction between active and passive euthanasia as well as the distinction between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. (“Ethics”, 2005) Active euthanasia means causing the death of a person by act. Passive euthanasia stands for the omission of life-prolonging medical treatment. If the act or omission is conducted on the request of the person who dies, voluntary euthanasia will be carried out. Otherwise it is an act or omission of involuntary euthanasia.

[3] Arguments of Euthanasia


The arguments against mercy killing can be divided into different categories. There are religious, ethical and practical reasons to disapprove of euthanasia. (“Overview”, 2005)

Religious arguments

Ethical arguments

Practical arguments

         Euthanasia is against the word and will of God

         Euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life

         Suffering may have value

   Euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life

   Accepting euthanasia accepts that some lives (those of the disabled or sick) are worth less than others

   Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable

   Euthanasia might not be in a person's best interests

   Euthanasia affects other people's rights, not just those of the patient

    Proper palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary

    There's no way of properly regulating euthanasia

    Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill

    Euthanasia gives too much power to doctors

    Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives

Tab. 1: Overview of arguments against euthanasia. (“Overview”, 2005)


Table 1 provides an overview of the most common arguments of opponents of euthanasia. The strongest religious reason against mercy killing is the word and will of God. A lot of religious people believe that life is given by God, and only God should decide when to end it. (“Ethical Problems”, 2005).

The so-called slippery slope argument is probably the most powerful amongst the ethical arguments. (“Overview”, 2005) Many people worry that if voluntary euthanasia was decriminalized, it would lead to an abuse of the law liberation and the occurrence of involuntary euthanasia would just be a matter of time.

A similar practical argument refers to the creation and introduction of laws and guidelines. In the opinion of some opponents of euthanasia it is not possible to formulate regulations in a proper way to minimize abuse.

[4] Arguments in Favour of Euthanasia

The proponents of euthanasia argue that any regulation is better than no regulation. (“Arguments”, 2005) The conditions concerning access to euthanasia must be very strict to minimize the risk of abuse. (Young, 2008) Euthanasia should only be provided to persons who:

Those in favor of euthanasia think that it might not be easy to find a proper regulation but that it is possible nevertheless.

Another profound argument for the legalization of euthanasia can be seen in the independency and individual freedom of each person. (“Arguments, 2005) People should have the possibility to control their body their life and also the circumstances and time of death.

The next argument in favor of euthanasia is rarely subject to public discussions. The “medical resources” argument (“Arguments”,2005) deals with the shortage of health resources and the availability of resources for people who’s lives can be saved and not just prolonged.

[5] Euthanasia and Public Policy

To decriminalize mercy killing and open the access to euthanasia means a giant decision for every government. As already mentioned there are not many countries in which euthanasia is legally allowed. It is a matter of fact that euthanasia might be justified in individual cases but that does not imply euthanasia should be legalized on a broad basis. On the contrary, a public policy permitting active voluntary euthanasia does not necessarily settle the moral justification of euthanasia in individual cases. (Cranford et al., 1991)

This is a dilemma most countries will have to cope with in the future as there is an ongoing rethinking in society. Introducing a public policy for active euthanasia can of course put a society on the “slippery slope” to involuntary euthanasia, (Cranford et al., 1991) when it is used to justify individual cases of euthanasia. Indeed public regulation can not be a justification for any human act or omission. That is not the spirit and purpose of the law. Public policy can only provide specific circumstantial guidelines for active euthanasia (Cranford et al., 1991) to minimize abuse. It can also determine legal consequences of abusive use of euthanasia in order to prevent people from doing so (general prevention of crime), but it can not, by no means, replace or regulate the moral and ethic justification in individual cases.

[6] Currend State of Affairs in Austria

As the law stands in Austria, active euthanasia is forbidden. The Austrian criminal code determines murder on request in 77 and the assistance to committing suicide in 78. The range of punishment is in both cases six month up to 5 years. Compared to murder, with a range of punishment of ten to twenty years, murder on request as well as assistance to committing suicide is a so-called “privileged” crime.

The legal situation in Austria reflects the “public opinion”. Currently it therefore seems unthinkable to decriminalize euthanasia. For most Austrians mercy killing is understandable under certain circumstances but nevertheless not tolerable.

[7] Conclusion

As the text has shown, euthanasia is a very controversial topic. There are a lot of different arguments in favor of mercy killing and also a lot of religious, ethical and practical arguments against euthanasia. (“Overview”, 2005; “Arguments”, 2005)

Reasonable arguments may lead to some sort of justification in individual cases but when it comes to the development of a public policy there is far more that has to be taken into consideration. Justification in individual cases does not automatically mean justification of a public policy and vice versa. (Cranford et al., 1991) Public policy can therefore never be a justification of individual cases of euthanasia.

A world-wide decriminalization of euthanasia is so far unthinkable. However the legalization of euthanasia in more and more countries, lately in the US state of Washington, (Smartt, 2007; “Luxembourg says ‘yes’”, 2008; Woodward, 2008) have shown a process of rethinking. It seems as if an increasing number of people begin to see both sides of the coin now. What may be considered murder on the one hand may be release to a terminally ill person, and his or her family and friends on the other hand. Indeed it is time that people see euthanasia for what it is, with all its positive and negative aspects.

[8] Map of the Legality of Euthanasia

Fig.1: Map of the legality of euthanasia, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/Euthanasia_and_the_Law.png (April 22, 2009)

[9] Reference List

[10] Java Script Example