Sample Research Paper on Ethics and Euthanasia: Where is Euthanasia Legal?

Research PaperEuthanasia
Jan 4, 2022

A research paper is a type of written coursework whose main purpose is to present and support a claim or thesis statement using credible information from scholarly sources . This paper may be about any topic, but in most cases, the topic should be relevant to the course, timely, and open to debate. This sample research paper discusses the possible future of euthanasia by looking at countries where it is legal.

In the past few decades, there has been remarkable progress in a number of controversial social issues. Same-sex marriage has been legal for decades in many states and is now legal in the entirety of the United States and many other countries (SOURCE); positive public attitude towards abortion has grown in the past few decades (SOURCE); and the legalization of marijuana has been in effect in most states in varying degrees (SOURCE). But while these issues have been characterized by dynamic changes in the past few decades, one issue that has always been in public discourse yet slow to progress is euthanasia. The ethical dilemma of euthanasia has proven to be a formidable one, and the sensitivity of the issue has led to a fierce debate whenever new euthanasia laws or decrees are brought up for discussion. The relative slowness of resolving this issue certainly begs the question of what the future holds for euthanasia. Based on the current state of euthanasia laws around the world, it can be said that the full legalization of euthanasia is yet to be achieved in the foreseeable future.

What is Euthanasia?

To understand the laws surrounding euthanasia, it is important to first understand the concept and what it entails. The definition can be quite vague, especially since some of its elements overlap with those of other concepts such as assisted suicide. The Oxford English Dictionary (2021) currently defines euthanasia as “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.” Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal abides by the definition published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, which defines euthanasia as “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering” (Harris, 2001). Other definitions have also incorporated the element of request from the person seeking euthanasia or their representatives. The Netherlands, for example, defines euthanasia as the termination of life upon the request of the individual (McNair, 2011). Based on these definitions, at least four crucial elements emerge: (i) the deliberate termination of life, (ii) on account of intractable suffering and or terminal disease, (iii) upon request of the individual or their representative, and (iv) in jurisdictions where it is permitted the process must be performed by a physician. Note that an individual who seeks death may do so for a variety of reasons including but not limited to severe pain; prolonged suffering; emotional and psychological anguish; and a desire for a peaceful and dignified death. Moreover, euthanasia is often differentiated from assisted suicide in that in the latter it is the individual who commits the act that brings upon death.

The definition of euthanasia can be further refined by looking at two main types: passive and active. Passive euthanasia is generally described as the withholding of treatments without which the individual will die. For example, removing a feeding tube through which the individual receives nourishment or switching off a mechanical ventilator. Passive euthanasia is considered an act of omission and is colloquially referred to as letting die (Brassington, 2020). By contrast, active euthanasia is the taking of a step that brings about death such as the administration of a lethal dose of a substance. Active euthanasia is regarded as an act of commission and is referred to as killing (Brazier, 2018). Passive euthanasia has gained wider acceptance while active euthanasia remains highly controversial, with the idea that the passive form simply lets nature take its course unimpeded.

Where Passive Euthanasia is Legal

Because passive euthanasia has been less controversial and viewed more favorably, it has gained wider acceptance than active euthanasia. In the United States, all states expressly prohibit active euthanasia. For example, the General Laws of Massachusetts (2021) specifically states that “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to constitute, condone, authorize, or approve suicide or mercy killing, or to permit any affirmative or deliberate act to end one's own life other than to permit the natural process of dying.” But while the states prohibit active euthanasia, most if not all states allow passive euthanasia by way of upholding the right of an individual or, in the case of incapacitation, their legal surrogates to refuse any treatment including life-prolonging interventions (Engelhart, 2021). For example, a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer has the right to refuse the insertion of a feeding tube even if refusal will result in death. In a way, the legality of passive euthanasia can be considered as a consequence of the right to refuse treatment.

Passive euthanasia has also been accepted in other countries. Exact data are difficult to come by, especially since the status of euthanasia is not always explicitly promulgated but in many cases are instead determined by court rulings. Europe is the continent where passive euthanasia is mostly accepted. Some of the countries that allow this are the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and Greece among others (Engelhart, 2021). Moreover, India, parts of Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay have also permitted passive euthanasia. The number of countries that allow this form of mercy killing has grown over the decades, and more countries can be expected to make a definite stand on the matter as society becomes more aware of the need to address questions regarding end-of-life issues.

Where Active Euthanasia is Legal

While passive euthanasia has acquired a degree of legality due to the upholding of the right to refuse treatment, active euthanasia remains largely prohibited not only in the United States but the rest of the world. As noted earlier, all 50 states in the US consider active euthanasia illegal. Outside of the US, the majority of countries also expressly forbid the practice. For instance, most countries and regions forbid active euthanasia including Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, China, countries in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia (Engelhart, 2021).

On the other hand, a few countries have legalized active euthanasia. Many of the cases of legalization were prompted by legal battles involving individuals who campaigned to have the government recognize people’s right to decide matters related to their own death. As of current, active euthanasia is legal in Canada, Colombia, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, parts of Australia, and New Zealand (The Week, 2021).

The Future of Euthanasia

Based on the current legal status of euthanasia both in the United States and outside of it, it can be reasonably concluded that euthanasia is still far from becoming a legal and widely accepted practice. Since debates on euthanasia emerged in the mid-20th century, less than half of the world’s countries have formally declared passive euthanasia as legal, and even fewer have instated laws that allow for active euthanasia. Public opinion also remains divided, especially with crucial influencing bodies remaining ambiguous or explicitly in opposition to euthanasia. For example, the World Health Organization [WHO] has not made an official statement on euthanasia and instead has been an advocate of palliative care (WHO, 2020). Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church, being one of the most powerful religious groups, has stood firm in its opposition to active euthanasia, though it has also expressed support to what amounts to passive euthanasia with its affirmation that in cases where “inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life” (Seper, 1980). With governments and influential groups remaining steadfast in opposing active euthanasia and legislative bodies locked in debate, it may yet take more decades before both forms of euthanasia become legal in more jurisdictions.

Conclusion

Although decades have already passed since euthanasia surfaced as an important issue in healthcare, the practice remains divisive, controversial, and even illegal. Defined as the intentional termination of the life of a patient suffering from an incurable and intractable disease upon the patient’s request, this act conventionally known as mercy killing has raised heated debates and legislative gridlocks. The practice is also categorized as either passive or active, with the former being an act of commission and the latter being an act of omission. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Currently, all states in the US permit some form of passive euthanasia on account of the patient’s right to refuse treatment, but active euthanasia is illegal in the entire country. Meanwhile, only a handful of countries have legalized active euthanasia, with the majority of countries firmly against euthanasia. Given this state, the practice is most certainly still far from being legally recognized.

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References

Brassington, I. (2020). What passive euthanasia is. BMC Medical Ethics, 21(41). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12910-020-00481-7

Brazier, Y. (2018, December 17). What are euthanasia and assisted suicide? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182951

Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (2021). General Laws. https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws

Devos, T. (2021). Euthanasia: Searching for the Full Story. Springer Nature.

Engelhart, K. (2021). The inevitable: Dispatches on the right to die. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Harris, N. M. (2001). The euthanasia debate. BMJ Military Health, 147, 367-370. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jramc-147-03-22

McNair, T. (2011, June). Euthanasia and assisted suicide. British Broadcasting Corporation. https://web.archive.org/web/20110719071151/http:/www.bbc.co.uk/health/support/terminalillness_euthanasia.shtml

Oxford University Press. (2021). Euthanasia. In Lexico. https://www.lexico.com/definition/euthanasia

Seper, F. (1980, May 5). Declaration on euthanasia. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19800505_euthanasia_en.html

The Week. (2021, September 22). Countries where euthanasia is legal. https://www.theweek.co.uk/102978/countries-where-euthanasia-is-legal

World Health Organization. (2020, August 5). Palliative care. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/palliative-care

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