Euthanasia -- the Illusion of Autonomy
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 2006 March; 25(1): 189-199
The paper deals with some of the more common arguments used for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. It looks at these arguments from an ethical and philosophical point of view. First, the argument that to offer a person the possibility of euthanasia is to respect that person's autonomy is questionable. Can a person's decision on euthanasia be really autonomous? If euthanasia were legal everybody would be conscious of this option: the patient, the doctor, the family and the nursing staff. Thus, there could be indirect pressure on the patient to make a decision. The choice is meant to be free but the patient is not free not to make the choice. Secondly, a choice that seeks to alleviate suffering and thus improve life by annihilating it is irrational. Thirdly, autonomy as to one's own death is hardly exercised freely. Even an otherwise competent person may not be competent in deciding on his own death on account of despair, hopelessness, fear or maybe a feeling of being weak, superfluous and unwanted. This is a very uncertain base for decision-making, especially in the irrevocable decision of euthanasia. Finally, a competent person usually makes any choice in a responsible way and after due consideration; a 'good' decision should consider and respect the wishes and feelings of others. This will be no less the case in making a decision on the so-called free choice of euthanasia. Thus 'normal' behaviour in decision making will only add to the tendency of the already depressed person to feel a burden on his family, the staff and even on society.
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