The problem of euthanasia was formulated in ancient times. However, even then it caused much controversy among physicians, philosophers, and lawyers. The attitude towards the deliberate acceleration of death of a terminally ill person, even with the aim to end his or her suffering, has never been straightforward. However, the relevance and importance of this topic are difficult to overstate as it is associated with the most expensive thing every human possesses, i.e. the life. The following paper is aimed at addressing the issue of euthanasia in order to reveal its essence and classification as well as define if it should be legalized in our society. To achieve the abovementioned goal, the paper is going to provide precise analysis referring to the traditional ideas about euthanasia, examine the right to live and the right to die from a legal point of view, providing the understanding of the cases where euthanasia can be used, as well as identify the moral aspects, the pros and cons of euthanasia, analyzing the experience of the countries which officially authorized it.
The History and Classification of Euthanasia
For the first time, the term ‘euthanasia’ was used by Francis Bacon to refer to an easy death. Later ‘euthanasia’ implied the extermination of the so-called ‘inferior’ lives. This interpretation became widespread in Nazi Germany, where ill infants, mentally ill and the elderly people with disabilities were slaves. The Declaration on Euthanasia 1987 considers euthanasia as the act of intentional deprivation of life of the patient made at the request of the patient or at the application with the request.
In fact, euthanasia is an extremely contradictory issue in modern society. Depending on its definition, some changes in approach to this issue can be seen. Euthanasia can be divided into active and passive, voluntary and involuntary. Each of the abovementioned types is explained below. Passive euthanasia refers to the termination of the life-prolonging medical treatment, which consequently accelerates the natural death.
Active euthanasia implies the provision of drugs or any other means to the patient as well as other actions which entail quick and painless death. In fact, active euthanasia may occur in the following forms:
- the form of the so-called ‘mercy killing’. It occurs when the medical personnel cannot provide any help or treatment to facilitate the sufferings of the hopelessly sick person so that the patient is provided with an overdose of painkillers, which leads to his or her death;
- the form of the so-called ‘suicide euthanasia’. It occurs when the doctor helps a terminally ill person to commit suicide. However, active euthanasia can occur without the aid of a doctor as patients may use the specific device themselves.
Voluntary euthanasia can be carried out by an unequivocal request of the patient or his previously expressed consent provided in a legally valid form to express their will in case of irreversible coma etc. Involuntary euthanasia is carried out without the direct consent of the patient. Based on the abovementioned classification as well as the combination of the possible forms, four variations of euthanasia can be defined: voluntary and active, voluntary and passive, involuntary and active and involuntary and passive euthanasia.
The main feature of euthanasia concept implies the behavior in the form of proactive and passive action. Moreover, this activity should be performed by a specially trained person, i.e. health worker, paramedic, nurse, etc. Another characteristic feature of euthanasia is that these activities are performed by medical workers consciously, that is, in a state in which he could understand the significance of their actions, i.e. the intellectual aspect and the will aspect. Moreover, this activity must be committed deliberately, that is, health care workers should make it consciously and foresee its consequences. The abovementioned facts are precisely the main features that characterize euthanasia as an activity of a certain type.
International Experience of Euthanasia Legalization
In modern history, the problem of euthanasia and voluntary withdrawal from the life of terminally ill people has been widely discussed since the late 1950s of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the conditions for its implementation are well developed and tested in a number of countries where euthanasia is legal.
The Netherlands became the pioneer in the field of voluntary death legalization. In 1993 a special list of 12 mandatory points was issued, which was the basis for the law on euthanasia