Euthanasia is a very controversial issue. It is often described as compassionate killing, or an act of causing death for the benefit of a suffering person. The original Greek word, euthanos, means easy death. While human euthanasia is legal in some countries including Canada, Netherlands, Belgium and Colombia, in most other places it is considered illegal, although assisted suicide is more widely accepted. In the UK neither is legal.

Although similar, there is a difference between the act of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Euthanasia involves action or deliberate lack of it, with the intention of causing death. For example, it might involve a lethal injection or withholding food from a terminally ill person who is unable to feed themselves. Meanwhile, assisted suicide involves providing an indirect means of death for the sufferer, as per their request, such as giving out too much prescription medication, which would allow for an overdose.

While by definition the law of euthanasia is the same in countries which permit it, its implications and details tend to vary. The indisputable conditions which must hold for an individual to be granted the permission to get euthanised or given the means to commit assisted suicide usually include the following:
1) The patient experiences unbearable pain
2) They were diagnosed with an uncurable illness
3) The demand for euthanasia must be made with the patient being fully conscious.

The ethical dilemma arises due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, the definition of death is unclear and it is difficult to tell where to draw the line between existing and non-existing. For example, some brain-damaged, comatose patients are being kept alive for decades due to the assumption that they are still living, and thus putting an end to their existance would be murder. However, the question arises whether being kept artificially alive is truly life, or perhaps they are already dead?

Interestingly, there are 3 main definitions of death which attempt to define where the line between life and death lies. They are the following:
1) The Neurological Theory - brain death (lack of any response to stimuli) constitutes the real death of the individual
2) The Two Deaths Theory - death of the consciousness is different from the death of the body.
3) The Bodily Integration Theory - death/life is determined by the overall integration of the body, rather than just the brain. Thus, lack of reaction to stimuli in that case would not necessarily suggest death, provided that the body tissues continued functioning.

Other than the uncertainty surrounding death itself, the act of legal ending of life, or contributing to another individual's suicide, is viewed as equivalent to murder in many cultures. Even where that is not the case, and the required indisputable conditions are believed to hold according to on-lookers, legalising euthanasia could make it potentially easier to cross the line of committing murder by a physician who is unsound in mind. That can be done either directly, or indirectly, e.g. by talking a depressed patient into committing suicide, even if treatment for their condition exists. For that reason, my personal viewpoint is against legalising physician assisted suicide as in my opinion, the risk outweighs the benefits. I believe that instead of that, more investment should be made towards improving the means of alleviating pain, such as improved painkillers, as well as better antidepressants and psychotherapy with the aim of decreasing the psychological aspect of suffering. Nevertheless, I also believe that comatose individuals should not be kept alive against their will.

Interestingly, in countries such as UK, where euthanasia/physician assisted suicide is not legal, there exist other means of helping terminally ill patients with self-deliverance. For example there are websites available, which provide information regarding successfully committing suicide. Moreover, several books have been published, such as Final Exit by Derek Humphry, which outline several methods of self-deliverance focusing on minimising the pain associated with the act and ensuring passing away in a dignified manner. Of course, there is always the issue of this sort of information ending up in the wrong hands (e.g. teenagers going through a break-up, individuals with curable depressive illness, etc). However, every human being is entitled to make their own, personal choices regarding preferred reading material, and everybody is equally free to choose what to do with their life.

My personal reference copy of Final Exit by Derek Humphry (I read it purely out of interest). It is a famous textbook on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.

While I'm not condemning the act of suicide, I believe that ending one's suffering should be a personal choice and involvement of other parties should be minimised. Of course, there is always the tricky situation where the suffering party is unable to move and can only communicate their wishes to their carer. However, again in my opinion, even in such a situation the patient should receive the best palliative care, and more importance should be given to ensuring their psychological well-being and minimising pain rather than simply "getting rid of the problem". I am aware that not everyone will agree with me here, as this is indeed a very controversial issue but I respect everyone's opinions on this, so please feel free to comment on this post if you wish to express your own viewpoint.


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