Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (Preliminary Hsc Legal Studies Speech Transcript)
Julie Nguyen Legal Studies Speech Transcript Everybody has their own opinion and their own point of view. When these views, by no means of exaggeration, are the very difference between life and death, there is always going to be conflict and controversy. The term euthanasia refers to the intentional killing of a human being for his or her alleged benefit. There are very obvious ethical issues surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide, some for and some against. In the end, it is left up to a country or state’s legislation to protect its citizens.
Before I speak about a couple of recent events pertaining to this issue, I think it’s important to clear something up. Although the terms euthanasia and assisted suicide are often used interchangeably, there is a small difference in the eyes of the law. This distinction relies solely on the final act committed. For example, if an intravenous needle has been set up to administer a lethal drug when a switch is triggered, the final act in this circumstance is flipping the switch.
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If this motion is carried out by the patient, assisted suicide occurs and in the case of euthanasia, it is the doctor who activates the switch.
The issue here is of course the opposing views held by society. For every person who believes euthanasia and assisted suicide can provide relief to those in pain, another person thinks that it can only devalue human life. Less than two months ago, in July of 2009, one Sir Edward Downes flew with his wife to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where Swiss laws allow doctors and physicians to take part in assisted suicides. Lady Downes suffered from terminal cancer, whereas her husband was not affected by any illness. He simply wanted to die alongside his partner.
As both husband and wife were respected members of their London community, the concern encasing the matter of euthanasia was brought very quickly into the spotlight. In the same month, shortly after this unexpected incident, the British Medical Association went to vote on the legalization of assisted suicides. Despite urgency to amend British laws due to the escalating number of Britons going to other countries to die, the idea was dismissed. The reason that euthanasia and assisted suicides are central to so much debate is that, to begin with, death is a delicate topic.
The arguments from both sides are strongly backed, so the onus is on the governments to consider every possibility and aspect. There are those who maintain that nobody should get to decide when to die and that doctors, trained to preserve life, should never be involved in the termination of it. The question is, on the other hand, will taking away someone’s right to die be an infringement of their personal rights? Also quite recently in Britain, at the start of this month, Debbie Purdy found solace in the House of Lords.
Debbie, painfully affected by multiple sclerosis, went to Britain’s highest court of appeal in an attempt to obtain clarification of the laws regarding assisted suicide. Wanting to, herself, visit Dignitas in Switzerland with her husband’s companionship, she claimed that with the legislation being ambiguous, she and her husband could not abide. Debbie feared that if her husband, Omar, were to accompany her to Switzerland, he would face persecution on his return to Britain, for the aiding and abetting of suicide. Setting a new legal precedent, the five judges in the House of Lords decided unanimously that the legislation was unclear.
They agreed that the Director of Public Prosecutions had a legal obligation to outline the situations in which an individual could or could not be punished for assisting suicide. In Europe, this offence originally carries a jail term of up to 14 years. As a result of this ruling, the British DPP is expected to publish a provisional policy by September that expands on when prosecutions related to aiding and abetting suicide may be pursued. In addition, Debbie Purdy’s lawyers and supporters had believed that if she were to win, the Parliament would have no choice but to introduce new legislation.
Because of the already sensitive nature of this issue, this, the protection of patient’s families, is only one of the intricacies that may arise. Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a difficult area to navigate because, at times, it can seem very black and white. Life however, isn’t so black and white, and there will always be unique situations, extenuating circumstances. When new precedents and laws fill in the shades of grey between the black and white, they provide a foundation and framework for a society that is right, that is just, that is fair.
BIBLIOGRAPHY • “With Help, Conductor and Wife Ended Lives”; Andrea Fletcher, July 16th 2009. http://www. bioethicsinternational. org/blog/? p=1257 [Accessed: August 1st, 2009] • “Debbie Purdy Wins Landmark Assisted Suicide Case”; P. Wilson, July 30th 2009. http://freethinker. co. uk/2009/07/30/debbie-purdy-wins-landmark-assisted-suicide-case-in-the-house-of-lords/ [Accessed: August 1st, 2009] • “Euthanasia: Pros and Cons” http://www. euthanasia. com/proscons. html [Accessed: August 1st, 2009]