The case for

Public opinion

Medical opinion

Religion

Holland

Living wills

Definitions

 


The case against

Only God can give and take away life
Some people believe that life is sacred and that no one has the right to purposely take a life. Many religious people follow this principle, so do not agree with suicide and assisted dying. However, there are many religious people who do support voluntary euthanasia, such as our late vice-president Lord Soper, an important Methodist minister. In the Netherlands, Catholic or Dutch Reformed clergymen may be present at assisted deaths. It must also be remembered that religious arguments cannot, and should not, apply to anyone who does not share that belief.

The slippery slope — voluntary euthanasia will soon lead to involuntary euthanasia
This argument states that once we have made voluntary euthanasia legal, society will soon allow involuntary euthanasia. This is based on the idea that if we change the law to allow a person to help somebody to die, we will not be able to control it. This is misleading and inaccurate — voluntary euthanasia is based on the right to choose for yourself. It is totally different from murder. There is no evidence to suggest that strictly controlled voluntary euthanasia would inevitably lead to the killing of the sick or elderly against their will. As Ronald Dworkin, professor of Law at Oxford and New York University, said in 1994:

"Of course doctors know the moral difference between helping people who beg to die and killing those who want to live. If anything, ignoring the pain of terminally ill patients pleading for death rather than trying to help them seems more likely to chill a doctor's human instincts."

People who do not agree with voluntary euthanasia often refer to the 1967 Abortion Act. They argue that the numbers of abortions which now take place every year show that the safeguards set out in the Abortion Act have been ignored. They argue that this example should be taken as a warning of what could happen if helping people who are terminally ill to die is made legal. They believe that the law would not be able to control a huge amount of euthanasia cases, many of which would be involuntary. However, abortion is a very different issue to assisted dying. It is also important to remember that people choose to have abortions, they are not forced on people. There is no evidence to suggest that assisted dying will be forced on anyone either.

It will have a damaging effect on society
Some people who do not agree with voluntary euthanasia argue that if it was legalised, it would damage the moral and social foundation of society by removing the traditional principle that man should not kill, and reduce the respect for human life. However, the idea that we should not kill is not absolute, even for those with religious beliefs — killing in war or self-defence is justified by most. We already let people die because they are allowed to refuse treatment which could save their life, and this has not damaged anyone's respect for the worth of human life.

Fear of abuse of the law
In any law which allowed a person to help someone to die, there would be safeguards to make sure that:

  • the person is told everything about the process
  • they are not forced into making a decision
  • they are mentally able to make the decision

At the moment, no one knows how much non-voluntary euthanasia is carried out because active euthanasia is practised outside the law. In 1996 researchers from Monash University, Australia carried out a study comparing end-of-life decisions in Australia, where voluntary euthanasia is illegal, and Holland, where it is permitted. They found that non-voluntary euthanasia actually took place five times more often in Australia.

Patients receive excellent palliative care, so euthanasia is unnecessary
Hospices do a wonderful job, making terminally ill patients comfortable and relieving their pain, but even experts in palliative care agree that not all pain can be fully controlled. Even if pain could be fully controlled, for many patients it is other aspects of their condition, such as losing their dignity, that lead them to consider an assisted death. Palliative care cannot entirely replace the need for voluntary euthanasia. Some people will always want this choice.

Any change in the law must look at concerns about abuse of the law, but such fears should not prevent us from acting. As Ronald Dworkin, Professor of law at Oxford and New York University, said in 1994:

"...It would be perverse to force competent people to die in great pain or in a drugged stupor for that reason, accepting a great and known evil to avoid the risk of a speculative one."