What is euthanasia?

What Does Euthanasia Mean

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

Euthanasia is also known as assisted suicide or assisted death.

What is euthanasia?

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

Ideally, this procedure has the voluntary approval and explicit request on the part of the patient, or their manager, in the event of being unable to express their own will. In some countries and laws it can also be referred to as assisted suicide or assisted death .

Despite the fact that euthanasia is based on a humanitarian principle, which is to reduce 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 view suicide as a sin or reprehensible act, and therefore euthanasia as a form of medical complicity. In fact, there have been numerous cases in the recent history of legal litigation in which a person demanded that aid be given to him 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"), which is why it originally meant "well to die", that is, a dignified death, peaceful or without physical suffering.

It can help you: Bioethics

Countries with legal euthanasia

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

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

Types of euthanasia

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

  • According to the actions of the doctor. Generally a distinction is made 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 in principle at alleviating 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 must be voluntarily requested from the doctors by the patient or by his representative, in the event that he cannot take care of himself. However, it is usually distinguished between:
    • Voluntary It is the patient himself who makes the decision and requests death, either in person or through a document that he has left in writing.
    • Not voluntary. It occurs when a third party makes the decision, such as a close relative or, in their absence, a legal representative, since the patient cannot be consulted due to their condition and has not left any type of writing in this regard.

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 in which medical personnel intervene in the patient's body to cause death, supplying drugs or substances .
  • Passive or negative euthanasia. It occurs in cases in which medical personnel do not intervene in the body of the patient to save his life, but rather practice an omission of resuscitative or therapeutic procedures, to allow the patient to die.

Arguments for euthanasia

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

Thus, euthanasia is considered an act of mercy, which also respects the right to self-determination of the patient, the 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 enter a hospital and request death because they are sad or depressed, but it requires very specific medical conditions.

The conditions required to carry out 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.

Arguments against euthanasia

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

In addition, it is argued that voluntary death is still a death and therefore has moral consequences both in the performing 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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