What is euthanasia?

We explain what euthanasia is, in which countries it is legal and what types exist. In addition, the arguments for and against.

  1. What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the conscious, intentional and voluntary medical procedure through which the life of a terminal patient is terminated (that is, without any expectation of improvement), in order to save him from greater suffering and pain.

Said procedure, ideally, has the voluntary approval and explicit request of the patient, or of the person in charge, in case of being unable to express their own will. In some countries and laws it can also be named as assisted suicide or assisted death .

Although euthanasia starts from a humanitarian principle, which is to shorten the unnecessary suffering of another individual, its application and acceptance is enormously controversial in different cultures and laws, generally established on the inalienable right to life.

Most religions see suicide as a sin or a reproachable act, and therefore euthanasia as a form of medical complicity. In fact, there have been numerous cases in the recent history of legal disputes in which a person demanded that he be given help to die, and different public entities opposed him.

The word euthanasia comes from the Greek and is composed of the voices eu- (“good”) and thanatos (“death”), so it originally meant “well to die”, that is, a dignified, peaceful death or without physical suffering.

  1. Countries with legal euthanasia

Euthanasia in its different classes and protocols has been legalized in just a few countries, such as Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands .

Under the title of “assisted suicide” has also been made legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and some US states : Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, California, Montana and Washington DC

  1. Types of euthanasia

There are two ways to classify euthanasia: from the perspective of medical action, and from the perspective of the patient’s will. Let’s see them separately:

According to the actions of the doctor . Generally distinguishes between:

  • Direct euthanasia: The death of the patient is actively sought.
  • Indirect euthanasia: Death occurs as a foreseeable consequence of palliative treatments, that is, aimed primarily at relieving the patient’s pain, such as the application of high doses of morphine.

According to the will of the patient . In principle, all forms of euthanasia should be requested to the doctors voluntarily by the patient or by his representative, given the case that he cannot fend for himself. However, it is usually distinguished between:

  • Voluntary . It is the patient himself who makes the decision and requests the death, either in person or through a document he has written down.
  • Not voluntary . It occurs when it is a third party who makes the decision, as a close relative or, in his absence, a legal representative, because the patient cannot be consulted due to his condition and has not left any type of writing in this regard.
  1. Active and passive euthanasia

Direct euthanasia, which we saw in the previous apparatus, can in turn be classified into two types, depending on the type of medical procedure used to cause the death of the patient. Thus, we can distinguish:

  • Active or positive euthanasia . It occurs in cases where medical personnel intervene in the patient’s body to cause death, providing drugs or substances .
  • Passive or negative euthanasia . It occurs in cases where medical personnel do not intervene in the body of the patient to save his life, but he practices an omission of resuscitative or therapeutic procedures, to allow the patient to die.
  1. Arguments in favor of euthanasia

The arguments in favor of euthanasia have to do mostly with the patient’s liberation from all pain and suffering (both physical and emotional and moral), in the face of a medical condition that has no escape and whose prognosis anyway points to death.

Thus, euthanasia is considered an act of piety, which also respects the right to self-determination of the patient, sole owner of his own life.

On the other hand, the approval of euthanasia does not necessarily have negative impacts on society , from a moral point of view. It is not that anyone can go to a hospital and request death because they are sad or depressed, but that it requires very specific medical conditions.

The conditions required to perform euthanasia can be regulated and debated by the legislators of each country, in order to reconcile it with the local values and traditions of the country.

  1. Arguments against euthanasia

The main arguments against euthanasia can be summed up that not all deaths are painful or humiliating. In addition, there are already existing medical methods to calm the pain and accompany death.

In addition, it is argued that voluntary death does not cease to be a death and therefore has moral consequences both in the executing physician and in the society that tolerates it, which could lead to unsuspected ethical dilemmas. On the other hand, it is considered an unnecessary procedure in the context of contemporary medicine.

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