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Euthanasia and assisted suicide

17th April 2009

Paquita de Zulueta, honorary senior clinical lecturer, Imperial College, London, offers a view on assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

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Assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia are rarely out of the news as more people opt to end their lives with the help of Dignitas in Switzerland.

Patients, politicians, philosophers and journalists are expressing views with a growing demand for the law to be relaxed to allow people their right to die, or at least not be at risk of prosecution if they assist.

Views are often polarised. While the majority of the British public seem to want voluntary euthanasia available, doctors have indicated they are against it.

At present, in British law, there exists an “inalienable right” to deny others invasion of one's bodily integrity.

Those in the ‘pro’ lobby say that autonomy is seen as supreme in dictating the terms by which doctors should treat their patients, even if this includes giving them lethal medication.

Secondly, they argue that to deny people the "right to die" is cruel and inhumane.

The other side of the argument is primarily based on the premise that humans are independent social beings, sensitive to the needs of others.

Doctors generally feel that trust and the therapeutic relationship would be eroded if they were perceived as ‘empowered to kill’ their patients in certain circumstances.

Having listened to the arguments for many years, I favour the route that most doctors opt for and the one that honours the meaning of the word euthanasia – "helping individuals to achieve a peaceful and gentle death without recourse to lethal medication."

 

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