“A good death” – from the Greek “eu” meaning good, and “thanatos” meaning death.

Euthanasia is related to suicide because people choose how and when a human life should end, either their own or someone else who is unable to make the choice.

In 1992 Dr. Nigel Cox was found guilty of attempting to murder a terminally ill patient. Sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment, suspended for twelve months. His patient had been in hideous pain which did not respond to pain killing injections. Dr Cox and the patient’s family were devastated by the sentence; they said his action was solely in the dying woman’s interests. He was lucky not to be struck off the Register by the Medical Council.

Euthanasia and the Law

1961 Suicide Act: Suicide became legal in UK, but it is still an offence to “aid, abet, counsel or procure” such an act. Anyone who helps a sufferer to end their life risks being charged with murder or manslaughter.

In some cases, passive euthanasia may be allowed, but permission must first be obtained from the courts. Tony Bland, a teenager injured in Hillsborough 1989, was left in a Persistent Vegetative State. As there was no hope of recovery, the courts gave permission for his life-support machine to be turned off.

However, Voluntary Euthanasia is not permitted in Britain. Diane Pretty, a 43 year old woman with motor neurone disease, has asked for legal permission to have help in ending her life. The courts in Britain said no, so she is taking her case to the European courts.

In the Netherlands euthanasia is now legal, from 1.1.2002. For some time the courts in Holland have turned a blind eye to the practice of euthanasia and the law has been changed to acknowledge this – with the majority of the public in full support.

Arguments for voluntary euthanasia

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (EXIT) believes that faced with terminal illness, pain or a useless existence, for which there is no cure, everyone should be able to turn to “…..the mercy of a painless death.” They hope that the law will change to allow doctors to end the lives of people who have made it clear, in writing, that this is what they want. As a safeguard, the patient should sign a request to make this possible at least 30 day in advance.

EXIT works to change the law so people can make “Advance Directives” – statements telling others of the patient’s wishes, in case they reach a stage when they cannot speak for themselves but want to be allowed to die.

Quality of Life is a main issue. If someone is enjoying happy relationships, can communicate, and is not in unbearable pain, then most people would agree that euthanasia is wrong. But, if the patient cannot communicate or is suffering so much they cannot enjoy life, then some would argue that euthanasia might be the best option.

Arguments against voluntary euthanasia

Christians for euthanasia

Some Christians would support euthanasia. They might argue:

Christians against euthanasia

Other Christians are against euthanasia. They argue it is dangerous to make euthanasia legal.

A challenging question

Euthanasia raises some awkward questions for Christians:

Christian beliefs about life after death may affect the way Christians think about suicide and euthanasia. They believe that after death they shall be judged and then enter heaven or hell.

Some Christians argue that God would be merciful and understanding with someone who has taken their life.

Others say that a person will have to account for their deeds at the judgment. People may think they are acting for the best, but are in fact doing something which God disapproves of.

Christians may find themselves in a difficult situation. They may be stuck between their Christian beliefs that euthanasia is wrong, and their love for someone dying painfully of a terminal illness.

Church teaching about euthanasia

The Roman Catholic Church

  1. Totally against euthanasia. Any act which deliberately brings about death is the same as murder.
  2. Does accept using pain killing drugs which are meant to relieve pain, but may shorten someone’s life.
  3. “Ordinary” treatments, e.g. feeding a patient must always continue, but “Extraordinary” treatments
    such as a complicated operation that is unlikely to succeed need not be given.

Euthanasia is always wrong, but it is also wrong to keep a patient alive at any cost. People should be allowed to die, but only when nature, or God, decides.

‘Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God’

Pope John Paul II, 1995

The Church of England

The Church of England has been involved in discussions about euthanasia for 30 years, and has reported:

Church of England 1999 .

The Baptist Church

The Baptist Church is generally against euthanasia. All human life is sacred and worth preserving. Euthanasia is similar to abortion, and raises the same issues – whether people have the right to take away human life.

Baptists agree that when a person is brain dead and experts agree there is no chance of recovery, then it is acceptable to stop treatment and allow the patient to die naturally.

Baptists do not agree with actions that make death come more quickly, e.g. a lethal dose of drugs.

The Methodist Church

“ We need to provide better care for the dying rather than kill them off ‘early.”

Methodist Conference 1974

"I sincerely believe that those who come after us will wonder why on earth we kept a human being alive against his will, when all the dignity, beauty and meaning of life had vanished; when any gain to anyone was clearly impossible and when we should have been punished by the state if we had kept an animal in similar conditions."

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead (leader of the Methodist church)

The Hospice Movement

The strongest argument against euthanasia. Hospices help people to die with dignity.

The aim of the Hospice Movement

How did the Hospice Movement begin?

Late 1900s: A group of Irish nuns, Sisters of Charity, set up a home in Dublin to care for the dying.

1900: 5 of the nuns travel to the East End of London and continue the work.

1967: Cecily Saunders, a nurse, helped to create St. Joseph’s Hospice in London, 1 of the most famous.

Now: 100+ hospices in England. At any one time, they care for 2000+ patients.

Hospices are not just for Christians, and not everyone who works there is a Christian. They do not try to make anyone believe in God, but provide opportunities to talk to ministers / priests if the patient wants. Hospices support relatives, even after the patient has died. Some Hospices are for children, with facilities for children and families, with play areas, gardens, and rooms for brothers and sisters to stay.

"We have to concern ourselves with the quality of life as well as its length"

Dame Cicely Saunders

"Hospices are places where people come to live, not to die"

Dr.H. Mossop - A Hospice doctor

Macmillan Nurses

Special nurses who visit patients and their families in Hospices and at home. Trained to care for the terminally ill. The patient sees a familiar face rather than different nursing shift every day.

Christians may support the Hospice movement and Macmillan nurses by: