I think, therefore I harm
If your pet is very sick and cannot recover, or is very old and cannot enjoy life anymore, you will take them to a vet for euthanasia. You would not let a pet endure sufferings for a condition they will not recover from. Euthanasia is performed humanly, without any suffering. This practice have been legal in most countries since time immemorial.
Why do we let humans suffer?
Except for a few notable exceptions, euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in the entire world. This means that, if you suffer an illness from which you cannot recover, such as cancer or AIDS, you have to wait. Patiently. Suffer until your last minute. You cannot be relieved prematurely, even though you can’t enjoy life or do anything anymore. You are forced to go through a long suffering, until your illness finally wins and kills you.
The word euthanasia is derived from a Greek word meaning good death. Euthanasia is referred to as the practice to end one’s life, in cases where the subject is terminally ill or otherwise cannot recover from a condition. It is performed in a way which does not cause pain or, at least, does not cause more pain than the condition already caused. The definition usually includes permanent and unbearable physical or mental suffering. Euthanasia may be performed by a doctor, a family member or an unrelated friend.
The word is subdivided in three definitions. Voluntary euthanasia is when a person has shown without the shadow of a doubt their wish to die. Non-voluntary euthanasia is performed when willingness cannot be obtained, such as when a person is in a comma or completely paralyzed. Involuntary euthanasia is an act of ending one’s days without consent. The definition can be further divided into active euthanasia, in which a conscious and voluntary act is undertaken to end one’s life, where passive euthanasia is simply to cause death by stopping the provision of drugs or other treatment which would otherwise have prolonged life.
Related is assisted suicide, in which a patient can receive help to die, such as one providing the patient with a lethal substance, but the patient must undertake the final decisive step.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide were well accepted, and even encouraged, in Ancient Greece and Rome, and most likely in other places at that time. Socrates and Plato where proponents of euthanasia in cases of hastening one’s inevitable death.
However, euthanasia phased out and became illegal in most countries over the centuries. Religions were the major source of dissuasion, in particular Judeo-Christian religions in which causing voluntary premature death was considered a mortal sin. It was more accepted in Protestant world though. Despite clear laws ruling out euthanasia, the practice continued mostly everywhere, either as active or passive, often secretly. Means to cause or hasten death indirectly were also used. Many debates occurred in the 1600s and 1700s, but there were more opponents than proponents. The question was debated differently in some Asian countries, such as Japan, where suicide was not generally seen as a sin, and thus euthanasia was seen differently.
In the 1800s, the availability of drugs, such as morphine, to render the pain of the dying tolerable, pushed the question aside. However, these drugs became commonly used as a new way to hasten death, by voluntary overdose, though the practice was discouraged and often punishable.
Samuel Williams, an English teacher, is generally recognized to have caused the resurgence of the question of euthanasia through a speech given in front of an amateur philosophical society in 1870. His speech was later printed and made publicly available.
A pro-euthanasia movement began in the early 1900s, particularly in the USA and Britain, in the form of groups or societies who publicly expressed their opinion. Noteworthy are legislation proposed in Ohio and Iowa, which succeeded to create a public debate but failed to be adopted.
King George V, king of the United Kingdom, died in January 1936, after a long illness that lasted since the first world war. Fifty years later, it was found that his physicist had voluntarily caused his death by giving him an overdose of morphine and cocaine. He had been on these drugs for many years, to relax his pain, and had rarely been conscious during these years.
Euthanasia is currently legal in Belgium (2002), the Netherlands (2002) and Luxembourg (2008). Assisted suicide is also legal in Switzerland (1942). Furthermore, laws exists in the US states of Oregon (1994), Washington (2008) and Vermont (2013) to permit assisted suicide. In all of these cases, rules are clear that the patient must be terminally ill and suffering.
In Australia, euthanasia have been legalized in 1995 in the Northern Territory, and the world’s first legal voluntary euthanasia was performed in 1996. However, the federal government nullified the law in 1997, after a long controversial debate.
In 1997, the courts of Colombia allowed for euthanasia. This was also for a very short time though, as the Supreme Court appealed the decision shortly after and made it illegal again. It is noteworthy though that assisted suicide cannot be regulated there because of the structure of their legal system. Assisted suicide is therefore not illegal.
In Germany, though not explicitly regulated, assisting one in suicide by providing poison or weapon is not illegal, if it can be demonstrated that the person requesting assistance was doing so by their own willingness. However, not assisting a person in need, including not helping a person who is found unconscious after attempting suicide, is considered a crime punishable by imprisonment. There could also be other repercussions if the substance or weapon provided where controlled or illegal.
Lastly, the state of Montana has no provision around assisted suicide, and it is therefore not illegal. A precedent was created in 2009 where a physicist successfully raised a defense of consent after being charged with assisting in a suicide.
In all other places (unless I missed one), euthanasia or assisted suicide are considered some form of murder, and punishable as such.
Until 1972, attempting suicide was a crime and was punishable. Suicide is not a crime anymore, but assisted suicide and euthanasia are both illegal.
I remember the case of Sue Rodriguez, a terminally ill woman who went to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993 to challenge the prohibition of assisted suicide as contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She lost her last battle as 5 of the 9 judges voted against her. She took her own life in early 1994, with the help of an anonymous physician. Later that year, two doctors, on behalf of the medical profession, issued a statement in which they both admitted having assisted some of their patients in hastening their death.
Another case I remember, and the very same year, is that of Robert Latimer, a wheat farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada, and father of four. In 1993, he killed his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy. At birth, Tracy had suffered of a lack of oxygen, and was unable to talk of have any voluntary body movement. She was in constant pain. She underwent several surgeries, all of which were aimed at reducing her pain. She could not use any painkiller – that the people taking care of her were aware of – because of conflicting effect with other medication she had to use. Latimer was charged with first-degree murder, but convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to life. He lost all of his appeals in 1996, 1997 and 2001. He was allowed day parole in 2008, and full day parole in 2010, at which point he could return to his family. His conditions were lifted in July 2013. To this day, he still insists that he did nothing wrong, that he did it for love of his daughter, and he is still fighting for the right to euthanasia.
In June 2012, British Columbia Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on physician-assisted suicide as discriminatory, leaving one year to the government to draft legislation, as is the custom. In October, the federal government presented a 54-page argument, in which it explains why prohibition on assisted suicide must remain, among which value of life is repeated several times. The last line reads that B.C. Supreme Court had no right to overrule the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in 1993 Sue Rodriguez case.
Francine Lalonde, a former federal minister afflicted with cancer, introduced a bill in 2005 and again in 2006 to legalize assisted suicide, but the bill was lost with the 2008 elections. She introduced a new bill in 2009, which was debated shortly in 2010 and rejected. She resigned later that year.
The right to euthanasia and assisted suicide is currently a hot debate in Canada, but not at the Parliament.
The day I was born was a special day. My life would be unpredictable. No one could tell what I would do of it. Even now, I still don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But the day I was born, one thing was known. One thing was certain. It is that one day, I will die. Can I, at the very least, have some control over how and when it happens? Can I die in dignity?
|Mais laissez-moi dormir
V’nez rien me d’mander
Vous verrez j’ai déjà tout donné
J’ai plus rien à offrir
À ceux que j’ai aimé
Laissez-moi m’en aller
|Let me sleep
Don’t ask me anymore
I gave it all already
I have nothing left to give
To those I loved
Let me leave