Euthanasia - the case for legal change

Euthanasia, or mercy killing, is the ending of a person's life who is suffering from a painful and incurable disease or an incapacitating physical disorder. Because there is no specific provision for it in most legal systems, it is considered either suicide (if performed by the patient himself) or murder (if performed by another). A physician may, however, lawfully decide not to prolong life where there is extreme suffering; and he may administer drugs to relieve pain, even though he knows that this may shorten the patient's life.

The opinion that euthanasia is morally permissible goes back to Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics. It is rejected in traditional Christian belief, chiefly because it is thought to come within the prohibition of murder in the Ten Commandments. The organized movement for legalisation commenced in England in 1935, when C. Killick Millard founded the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society (later called the Euthanasia Society). The Euthanasia Society of America was founded in 1938. The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society's Bill was defeated in the House of Lords in 1936, and so also was a motion on the same subject in the House of Lords in 1950. More recent attempts to reform the law have met with similar fates.

Opinion polls find consistently that around 80% of the British public support the legalisation of euthanasia - see EXIT's statistics. However modern Britain is effectively a two party state where both parties have similar policies and neither is willing to confront controversial issues. Busting the system is impossible without proportional representation and big finance. Neither party will support any form of proportional representation or state funding because it would end their monopoly of power. So in spite of public opinion there is no immediate prospect of legal change here.

Physician assisted suicide is practiced legally in the Netherlands - see Euthanasia in Holland. More recently Belgium and Luxembourg have introduced legislation, but despite the success of the Dutch model, few other countries have legalised euthanasia, due mainly to the organised opposition of religious groups. With the absence of prescription drugs, some have sought other painless methods of deliverance. One of the best works on this topic is Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences by Geo Stone. Of particular interest here is the use of inert gases such as argon, helium and nitrogen. Disposable helium cylinders are freely available and their use is illustrated in Derek Humphry's Final Exit on DVD. Another option are charcoal briquettes - burning them in the confined space of a car, or in a small sealed room (with a warning notice outside), will produce a high concentration of carbon monoxide. While no one wants to see young depressed individuals ending their lives in these ways, this risk has to be balanced against the benefits to people who may have terminal conditions and are currently being denied choice. I appreciate that some may find discussion of this subject appalling, but as a former railway employee, I fail to see why rail and underground staff should be continually traumatised. These incidents are a regular occurrence on the rail and tube network and can cost millions in lost work time, particularly if they occur during the morning commute. Railway suicides will never be eradicated without massive infrastructure changes, which the country cannot afford. But allowing regulated euthanasia on compassionate grounds would at least minimise the problem.

A strong argument could be made for considering euthanasia in other cases such as for handicapped babies, the incurably insane and for those who have lost possession of their faculties. Living wills (advance directives) and values histories help medical staff and others to make decisions about your care and treatment should you become seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. In some circumstances, living wills may become legally binding on health care staff. See The Living Will and Values History Project. If medical treatment is withdrawn the patient may suffer a slow death from hunger, thirst or pneumonia, which I find unacceptable, so my Living Will below gives express permission for euthanasia. Although it is not legally binding it should offer some defence against a prosecution.

This is the Living Will of me (Full Name) of (Address), (Town) in the County of (County) made this day of (Date), two thousand and (Year).

I hereby revoke all former Living Wills made by me and declare this to be my last Living Will.

In the event of my sustaining mental incapacity so that I am unable to express my will, it is my final wish that my life should be ended without delay by any painless means, irrespective of any law forbidding this.

As witness my hand the day and year first above written.

Testator’s signature……………………

Signed by the said testator in the presence of us, present at the same time, who at his request and in his presence and in the presence of each other, have subscribed our names as witnesses.

Witness signature……………………...
Witness name…...…………………......
of (Address)

Witness signature……………………...
Witness name…...…………………......
of (Address)

Attitudes to self-deliverance vary. In the western world it is considered a transgression by the church, although it is not explicitly forbidden in the bible. In oriental societies it is more culturally acceptable and practised commonly, particularly in Japan and South Korea. It is my personal view that the world is grossly overpopulated and many of us are now living far beyond our working lives, which creates economic stress. Therefore it is my position that voluntary euthanasia should be permitted by the state to any adult, including prisoners - irrespective of age, state of health or any other factors. In addition, I consider it quite reasonable that the partner, or even the family, of a departing person should want to leave with them to avoid the suffering of bereavement. Perhaps, as Martin Amis proposes, the deceased could be awarded a posthumous decoration by the government as they would likely have saved a huge sum in medical and nursing bills, and pensions as well as contributing to a noble ideal - human depopulation.

Dr Jack Kevorkian

Dr Jack Kevorkian is a physician who has practiced euthanasia in the United States for many years. In April 1999 he was jailed for second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance and not released until June 2007 - at the age of 79. See Jack Kevorkian and Dr Jack Kevorkian free at last.

Like Britain, America is a two party state where colossal sums of money are needed to enter politics. Christian fundamentalism has considerably greater influence there and prison sentences are far longer than they are in Europe for comparable crimes. The fact that the US has the highest per capita prison population in the developed world is largely due to mandatory minimum sentences that remove judicial discretion. See Families Against Mandatory Minimums.


Please note that this information is not intended for mentally ill or depressed individuals who are best advised to contact their family physicians.

Neutral, pro-choice and prevention newsgroups and websites.
(adapted from Geo Stone's links page)

To end on an upbeat note for those who are depressed, it's worth mentioning that there is some evidence of possible benefits of fish oil supplements for both mind and body. I find it improves my asthma and rhinitis somewhat in the summer although I haven't noticed any psychological effects even with pure EPA. Choose fish oil in preference to fish liver oil as one can absorb too much vitamin A from liver products. There is also some evidence that regular users of ayahuasca generally enjoy good mental health - see Effects of ayahuasca on psychometric measures of anxiety, panic-like and hopelessness in Santo Daime members and the DMT site below, if you don't fancy drinking the raw stuff.

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