Global debate over euthanasia is spreading

(Photo: Reuters / Thomas Peter)Activists carry placards during a protest against a proposed amendment of a German law about medically assisted suicide in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin November 29, 2012. The German parliament is due to debate on Thursday an amendment to paragraph 217 of the criminal code that deals with euthanasia, drawing criticism of activists, who say the proposed changes signify a concealed move towards legalising medically assisted suicide, a press release issued by the organisers of the protest said. The placards read: "Lonely," "Demented," "Suffering from eating disorders," "Ill."

Euthanasia seems lost today amidst ethical debates over issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

However, it has come to the forefront in the last several months.

The practice of intentionally causing the death of a person in order to benefit them or prevent further suffering was once a major issue for Christians in the United States in the 1990s when Dr. Jack Kervorkian was prosecuted for his assisted suicides.

Now it is back in the headlines.

In a recent case involving euthanasia, reported by the Catholic News Agency, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that its citizens have no right to assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is a form of voluntary euthanasia in which someone helps a person kill him or herself.

Commonly, physicians assist their patients with this form of euthanasia.

The Irish case involved a woman who wished to kill herself because she was suffering from an advanced case of multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease for which there is no known cure.

In Australia Catholic medical students stated concerned about the implications of a euthanasia bill introduced to News South Wales state parliament by the Greens party, The Catholic Weekly reported Thursday.

"Safeguards that were implemented in other countries which have legalized euthanasia have failed to protect the most vulnerable patients, so this may be a lesson for us in Australia," the newspaper quoted Christy Azzi, a third year student studying a double degree in medicine and surgery, as saying.

"As students, we are taught first and foremost not to harm our patient. Euthanasia would directly go against this first principle."

In another case, a debate has erupted over euthanasia in Belgium ever since two 45-year old twins were put to death by doctors at their request in January.

According to a report by Steve Siebold in the Huffington Post, there is controversy because the two men were not dying. They were deaf and had recently learned they were going blind.

Siebold, a critical thinking and mental toughness expert, said the twins were distraught over the prospect of never being able to hear or see each other again.

Belgium is one of three countries that have legalized assisted suicide. The others are the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

There are movements in France and to allow assisted suicide, according to Canada's CBC News. Canada has legal battles going on in two provinces over the issue.

(Photo: wikipedia)Jack Kervorkian, known as "Dr. Death", made headlines in the 1990s for his practice of assisting with his patients' suicides, speaks at UCLA in 2011. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are once again in the news.

Siebold wants assisted suicide legalized in his own nation, the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1990s to leave the decision up to individual states.

Three have chosen to make it legal: Montana, Oregon and Washington.

In his post, Siebold noted the Roman Catholic Church's position on euthanasia, which is that assisted suicide is a sin because only God has the authority to end a human life.

"Here's my critical thinking question on this bold statement from the Catholic Church, said Siebold. "'How do they know?"

"The Church, Catholic or any other, has no more information than you or I do," he said.

Siebold asked in his article, "When will Americans grow up emotionally and accept the fact that this is the only life we have evidence that exists, and we should be allowed to live it on our own terms"?

While Siebold holds a common belief that assistant suicide is a human right based on the patient's autonomy, others see the practice as a moral slippery slope.

Dr. Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, welcomed the recent verdict against assisted suicide in Ireland.

She told CNA that assisted suicide "would undermine the role of physicians as healer, expose the vulnerable to abuse, and would initiate a steady slide toward euthanasia."

In its April 24 edition, the New England Journal of Medicine published articles on the issue with differing viewpoints.

The medical experts arguing the position against assisted suicide cited the following as reasons for their belief:

* Healing should be at the core of medical practice;

* Making autonomy a priority "runs roughshod over competing values, protections, and needs and ignores the harmful effects on other people, societal institutions (the medical profession in particular) and the general community".

* Permitted physician assisted suicide creates a slippery slope and violates ethical norm.

Those writing in favor of assisted suicide noted the following as the reasons for their opinion:

* The role of physicians is not only to preserve life, but to alleviate suffering.

* Patients who wish to choose how they die, should be given that option instead of passively having to wait for death.

* Data from the U.S. and Europe shows that assisted suicide does not lead to uncontrolled expansion or abuse.

assisted suicide does not lead to uncontrolled expansion or abuse.  

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News