MEDICAL LAW & ETHICS
MARCH 1, 2015
The act of intentionally ending a person’s life in order to help alleviate pain and suffering is
called euthanasia. If a doctor gives a terminally ill patient an excessive amount that could end the
patient’s life, that would be euthanasia. The three types of euthanasia include: voluntary, non-
voluntary, and involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia is performed with the patient’s consent, whereas
with non-voluntary euthanasia the patient is unable to give their consent. Involuntary euthanasia
is done on a patient against their will.
Passive euthanasia is accepted by professional medical societies and is legal in certain
situations. In some countries euthanasia is considered a mercy killing and is considered legal. In
Belgium, euthanasia has been legal since 2002. Two doctors need to be involved and a
psychologist may be needed if the patient is not competent. In Columbia no one can be considered
criminally liable for helping to end a life of a terminally ill patient. In India, the law only recognizes
passive euthanasia to be legal. In Ireland it is legal to withdraw life support or other treatments if
patient or next of kin insists on it. In Luzembourg euthanasia is legal as long as long as two doctors
approve it. In Mexico, since 2008, next of kin of terminally ill patients could refuse any more
treatment. In the Netherlands, the courts have allowed euthanasia since the 1980s and doctors are
not required to keep patients alive against the patient’s wishes. In the United States, Oregon passed
the Death With Dignity Act in 1997. Patients must have two verbal and one written request in
order to receive lethal medication. They must also administer the medication themselves. In 2008
Washington passed the Death With Dignity Act which requires two oral and one written request.
These requests must be made 15 days apart and patient must have 6 months or less to live. Montana
also passed a law that allows a patient to die with dignity. Any lethal medications have to be taken
by the patient. Vermont is the latest state to join the list of states that allow euthanasia. This
happened in May of 2013. Patients must be a resident of these states to be allowed to receive
A leading argument for euthanasia is the argument for human autonomy and self-preservation.
Most people believe it is their life, they can do what they want to do, and it is their choice. Today
autonomy is an important factor in bio-medical ethics.
The AMA believes doctors must continue to respond to the needs of terminally ill patients.
When patients discover they have a terminal illness they should not be thrown out like a piece of
trash. They must continue to receive specialized care and pain control. They should never be
Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase meaning “first do no harm”. Medical professionals learn
this early in their careers. There is an ethical difference between the withdrawal of medical care
and the administration of treatment to hasten death. Medical professionals often face difficult
decisions concerning euthanasia. They have to do what they feel is morally correct. If they do not
agree with their employer’s policies they may have to seek employment elsewhere.
Karen Ann Quinlan slipped into a coma after a night of alcohol and tranquilizers. She was at
the center of a big debate on the definition of life and the right to with dignity. The court ruled that
her father had the right to make all decisions for her since she was in a coma. She later died of
respiratory failure due to acute pneumonia. The court ruled that no one could be prosecuted for
taking her off life support. Her death was not seen as murder, she was listed as dying from natural
Nancy Beth Cruzan was involved in an automobile crash that left her in a vegetative state. She
was the centerpiece of a heated debate about when and how loved ones can decide to withhold
food and medication therefore bringing about the death of their loved one. Her case brought about
a huge interest in advanced directives and living wills. People became more concerned about
making their last wishes known.
The Terri Shiavo case lasted from 1990 to 2005. Her husband wanted to remove the feeding
tube that was helping to keep her alive. Numerous doctors claimed she was in a persistent
vegetative state. Terri’s husband finally succeeded in having the feeding tube removed. Terri died
thirteen days later.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as Dr. Death, was the main figure in the assisted suicide era.
He spent eight years in jail for second-degree murder in the deaths of 130 terminally ill patients
whom he help to end their lives. He was sentenced to up to 25 years in a maximum security prison,
but was released when he promised to never conduct another assisted suicide.
Some of the pros of euthanasia include: It provides a way to relieve extreme pain, it frees up
medical funds to help other people and it is a person’s freedom of choice. Some of the cons include:
it devalues human life, physicians should not be directly involved in causing death, and it interferes
with the cycle of death.
New York was the first state to outlaw assisted suicide back in 1828. The term euthanasia comes
from a Greek word that means “good death”. Personally I feel that euthanasia is a debate that has
to be decided on a case by case basis. We are not supposed to intentionally kill people, but we do
not wish to see our loved ones suffer. Many of us know the excruciating pain that patients suffer
in the final stages of cancer. Most of us would do whatever it takes to help prevent unnecessary
suffering. Euthanasia will always be an issue, we just have to decide, is it right or wrong. That is
why we have attorneys to help us to determine just what our rights are.