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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Europe and the US

The topic of euthanasia is one of the most heatedly debated debates that take place in the medical, legal, ethical, and public fields of consideration, right next to death penalty as means of capital punishment (Colb, 2008). This is not an easy matter to decide upon, as the decision made has far-reaching complications that may affect the perceptions of the value of human life. The reason why no consensus was yet reached is because there are numerous ways of looking at the problem, which often results in conflicting perspectives. Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate action with the aim of ending a patient’s life to ease the suffering caused by the disease (Steck, Egger, Maessen, Reisch, & Zwahlen, 2013).

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This definition is similar to the term “Mercy Killing,” which was widely used in Europe and across the world, both in medical practice and the military (“History of Euthanasia,” n.d.). The governments of the world do not have a united stance on the issue, as in some countries euthanasia is legally acceptable. Such countries are Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In the USA, there is a term “assisted suicide,” where the doctor enables the patient to commit suicide without performing a deliberate action to end the patient’s life. Euthanasia, on the other hand, is legally treated as murder and is punished accordingly (Steck et al., 2013). The purpose of this paper is to explore the subject of euthanasia, its differences from other similar processes, ethical and moral implications of the deed, legislative regulations, and the overall necessity of the practice.

The governments have an uneasy time discussing the issue of euthanasia mainly out of three pressing concerns – ethical concerns, legislative concerns, and working definitions. Ethical concerns are, perhaps, the most pressing in this situation. The concept of euthanasia contradicts many tenets and ethical pillars of modern medicine, at the basis of which lies the Hippocratic Oath – to do no harm (Baldwin, 2007). Modern medical care is geared towards healing, promoting health, and improving the patient’s well-being. Since euthanasia is considered a deliberate act of ending the patient’s life, many doctors consider it to be murder, and are unwilling to make such a decision, which goes against many tenets of medicine. Euthanasia is vehemently opposed from within the ranks of the medical community.

Since euthanasia is a matter of life and death, many strict regulations must be implemented in order to ensure that the procedure is carried out willingly, accordingly, and that the doctor has the patient’s full consent. The patient must be aware of alternatives and express a continuous desire to undergo the procedure, to ensure that the decision was not made on a whim, when enduring an incident of intense pain or discomfort. There are many legal formalities to be upheld, as without them euthanasia may become a convenient way of getting rid of patients without actively trying to fight for their life.

In order to avoid redundancy, countries and states that allow euthanasia, generally prefer a single procedure to be available to the patients. In many cases, the term assisted suicide is used, as it partially takes away the stigma of a murderer from the doctor performing the operation. The term euthanasia is used solely when the doctor purposefully ends a patient’s life, in order to alleviate their suffering.

While the issue of euthanasia is rather complicated ethically for those who wish it performed and those who agree to perform it, there is also the public policy side of the question. The main problem with the public perception of euthanasia is that the procedure means that medical facilities, and the government by affiliation, are given the authority to end someone’s life. This issue is considered troublesome and controversial, especially in countries where death penalty is prohibited for that exact reason (Colb, 2008). Other policy concerns include the possibility of relatives convincing the terminally ill patient to undergo euthanasia, for their own ulterior motives.

Despite these concerns, there is a number of countries where euthanasia is legal. In Switzerland and some US states, assisted suicide is allowed if a patient is terminally ill (Steck et al., 2013). In Belgium, on the other hand, the condition is not required to be terminal, so long as it is incurable and causes significant pain. Depending on the country, there is also a difference between the minimum age of consent. In the USA, it is 18 years of age, while in Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, it can be as low as 12. When the patient is aged between 12 and 16, euthanasia requires additional consent from the child’s parents or guardians. Despite this, in the majority of the countries, euthanasia is considered illegal. Anyone performing it will be charged with murder under aggravating circumstances.

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Whether euthanasia is considered legal or illegal, there is another question to be considered: the one concerning a person’s choice. The freedom of choice has always been one of the prime arguments for euthanasia. The patient is free to do anything they wish with their life, which should include the possibility of going out with dignity, without artificially prolonging one’s life with no hope of recovery.

Another strong argument for legalization of euthanasia is that in most cases, the patient desiring it is suffering from unbearable amounts of physical pain and psychological distress. Many patients find the prospect of suffering and being bed-ridden for the rest of their lives to be a terrifying prospect, and would rather not prolong a pointless struggle and go out with dignity.

Lastly, palliative care and hospice services often come at great financial costs which neither the patient nor their family has the capabilities to bear. Although it should never be considered a deciding factor, but the unspoken reason why many hospices oppose euthanasia is because the procedure would otherwise rob them of a lucrative source of income (Meyer, 2010).

While it is a good idea to entitle people with choosing how their suffering should end, everything possible should be done to eliminate the possibility of a fatal mistake. When euthanasia becomes fully legalized in all countries, it is necessary to adopt a number of requirements to which a person should correspond before committing assisted suicide. The experience of countries where euthanasia is already legal would prove very valuable, as their requirements for allowing assisted suicide were developed through trial and error that other countries need not repeat. The most important safeguards for assisted suicide are:

  • It must be made sure that the disease is terminal and that there is no way of alleviating the patient’s suffering enough to rekindle the will to live.
  • The patient must be fully informed about the procedure, and about all alternatives available to the final solution.
  • The request for euthanasia and the corresponding medical assessments must be examined by a board of doctors to ensure that there is absolutely no other way.

There are many aspects of the issue of euthanasia which make is so complicated. Many people consider euthanasia wrong due to religious or ethical views. However, I believe that every person has a right to dignified death. If someone chooses to stop unbearable suffering, this person should be given a right to do so. I believe that the core feeling behind opposition to euthanasia is a deep-seated feeling of selfishness. Relatives of the patient often protest against euthanasia because they are afraid of losing their loved one more than they care for their suffering. Physicians do not wish to perform the procedure out of fear for their ethical and professional integrity.

Legislators oppose euthanasia because they do not want to deal with ethical and legislative complications of the issue. Different groups of people indulge their own fears and desires at the expense of the patients and their suffering. It should not be so. The decision to end one’s life should belong to the patient alone. Neither the government and the doctors nor family members should have the right to either impose euthanasia upon a patient or deny them the right to go out on their own terms. Once again, the argument returns to the supreme human right to do with their lives as they wish. This is what matters the most. All other considerations, whether ethical, moral, or legislative, should be considered secondary.


Baldwin, O. (2007). Euthanasia: Hippocratic reflections and modern applications of Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical. 

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Colb, S.F. (2008). The Implications of death penalty law for human euthanasia

History of euthanasia. (n.d.).

Kouwenhoven, P. S. C., Raijmakers, N. J. H., van Delden, J. J. M., Rietjens, J. A. C., Schermer, M. H. N., van Thiel, G. J. M. W.,… van der Heide, A. (2012). Opinions of health care professionals and the public after eight years of euthanasia legislation in the Netherlands: A mixed methods approach. Palliative Medicine, 27(3), 273-280.

Meyer, R. (2010). The cost of keeping the terminally ill alive

Steck, N., Egger, M., Maessen, M., Reisch, T., & Zwahlen, M. (2013). Euthanasia and assisted suicide in selected European countries and US states: Systematic literature review. Medical Care, 51(10), 938-944.

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