What if a patient actually asks us to kill them? Is consent, or euthanasia, a defense?

Euthanasia is murder or assisting suicide. The distinction is whether the actions are solely those of someone other than the deceased. Thus the wish of the deceased to die (consent) is no defense to a charge of murder. Although suicide and attempted suicide are no longer criminal offenses, assisting suicide is. Even to explain to someone how to kill themselves might be assisting suicide.

It may be argued that no-one should be prevented from taking his or her own life; therefore he or she should be provided with the information and materials necessary. Counter-arguments include the following.

1. The desire for suicide may be transient, and if postponed by events might not be carried through.

2. If assisting suicide or euthanasia were a defense to murder, it would often be difficult to disprove, with serious consequences.

3. Euthanasia may be abused. Even if restricted to being carried out apparently in good faith by registered medical practitioners, rules may be bent to allow 'euthanasia' of those with conditions like Alzheimer's disease. This has happened with 'therapeutic' abortion, which is only legal in rigidly defined circumstances but is now effectively performed on demand.

The situation in The Netherlands is also interesting. Euthanasia is allowed, also in strict circumstances: the request for euthanasia must be free and voluntary; it must be well considered, durable, and persistent; the patient must be experiencing intolerable (not necessarily physical) suffering; the doctor must consult with an independent medical colleague who has experience in the field; the death must be reported as from euthanasia. However, in 22 per cent of cases there had been only one request, in 30 per cent the interval between requests was 1 h to 1 week, and in 66 per cent the request was purely oral. Although in 56 per cent of cases intolerable suffering was cited as the reason for euthanasia, only 42 per cent of patients had mentioned it, and only 18 per cent as the most important reason, while 24 per cent quoted fear of mental deterioration. Consultation frequently did not occur, and euthanasia was usually not reported; deaths were certified as natural. Possibly, involuntary 'euthanasia' was occurring (G.o.ff...19.95). Thus trends are worrying, even in a most 'humane' society.

These are only arguments; in the United Kingdom (as in almost the whole world) euthanasia remains criminal.

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