euthanasia

Medical assistance in dying: what are we talking about?

Alberto Giubilini

Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

 

Medical assistance in dying  – or “MAiD”,  to use the somehow infelicitous acronym – is likely to be a central topic in bioethics this year. That might not be true of bioethics as an academic field, where MAiD has been widely discussed over the past 40 years. But it is likely true of bioethics as a wider societal and political area of discussion. There are two reasons to think this.  First, the topic has attracted a lot of attention the last year, especially with “slippery slope” concerns around Canada’s policies. Second, MAiD has recently been in the news in the UK, where national elections will take place in 2024.  It is not hard to imagine it will feature in the heated political polarization that always accompanies election campaigns.

Little can be done to prevent that kind of polarization. However, some clarity about the different issues at stake might help to steer clear of unnecessary quarrels and focus on the relevant points of disagreement. Without claiming to be exhaustive, here I want to try to take some step in that direction. Continue reading

Cross Post: Dutch Government to Expand Euthanasia Law to Include Children Aged One to 12 – An Ethicist’s View

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

Ernst Kuipers, the Dutch health minister, recently announced that regulations were being modified to allow doctors to actively end the lives of children aged one to 12 years who were terminally ill and suffering unbearably.

Previously, assisted dying was an option in the Netherlands in rare cases in younger children (under one year) and in some older teenagers who requested voluntary euthanasia. Until now, Belgium was the only country in the world to allow assisted dying in children under 12.

Under the proposal, it will remain against the law for doctors in the Netherlands to actively end the life of a child under the age of 12. However, a force majeure clause gives prosecutors the discretion not to prosecute in exceptional circumstances.

In 2005, Dutch doctors and legal experts published guidelines (the so-called “Groningen protocol”) elaborating when these exceptional circumstances would apply for infants under the age of one year. That included certainty about diagnosis and prognosis, “hopeless and unbearable suffering”, the support of both parents and appropriateness confirmed by an independent doctor.

The new regulations would allow the same principles to apply to children between one and 12 years of age. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Centre Prize in Practical Ethics: ‘Rational Departure’: What Does Stoicism Reveal About Contemporary Attitudes Towards Suicide?

This essay received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category.

Written by Ed Lamb, St. Anne’s College

Abstract

The Stoics’ approach to suicide appears to differ remarkably from our own. By contrasting these two views, I will explore why a difference in circumstances, epistemic claims, and value ascribed to life itself provides justification for our believing that suicide is wrong where the Stoics did not. I take suicide as the act of taking one’s own life both with intent and by using only one’s own capacities. After considering how the Stoic account of suicide brings into relief the reasons which lie behind our own view, I will outline two valuable insights which arise from the comparison: first, that the conditions many hold as required for euthanasia to be permissible are actually very similar to those the Stoics’ required for suicide; second, that the Stoics’ open and rational confrontation of mortality reveals how our own reticence towards it is tragically inadequate. Continue reading

Cross Post: Sex Versus Death: Why Marriage Equality Provokes More Heated Debate Than Assisted Dying

Written by Julian Savulescu

A version of this article has been published by The Conversation

Epicurus wrote: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist. ”

We are in the midst of two great ethical debates: marriage equality and assistance in dying. The great plebescite is ongoing and the Victorian parliament is debating a new law to allow assistance in dying in the last year of life.

A search of Victorian paper “The Age” reveals about 2400 results for “marriage equality” and only about 1700 for assisted dying related terms. But even more striking is the difference in the strength of the feelings they have embodied: despite the fact that one of these topics is literally a life and death matter, the same-sex marriage debate has been far more polarizing. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Secondary Intentions in Euthanasia, written by Isabel Canfield

This essay received an Honourable Mention in the Undergraduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Isabel Canfield

The debate about the moral permissibility of euthanasia is often presented as hinging upon the distinction between killing and letting die. This debate is often focused around a discussion of intention. This paper will attempt to answer the question, is there an additional level of intention, that has not been considered in the current debate on the moral permissibility of euthanasia, that should be considered?

It will be helpful to begin by outlining some of the terms that I will use throughout this paper. To this end, “euthanasia” is the act of killing someone else with the intention of avoiding the harm of living a continued life that is worse than death.[1 2] The distinction between active and passive euthanasia is complicated and at times not entirely clear. Typically, and for the purposes of this paper, active euthanasia is defined as an act that requires the agent who brings about death to do so purposefully. This purposeful action can be the completion of some task or tasks to accomplish this specific end. Meanwhile, passive euthanasia comes about when the agent who brings about death, if an agent can be said to bring about death at all in these cases, does so by purposefully not acting to continue to sustain the life of the person who dies.[3] Continue reading

Assisted Suicide in Scotland

Kevin McKenna offers a spirited critique (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/01/assisted-suicide-bill-scotland) of Margo MacDonald’s bill on assisted suicide, proposed recently to the Scottish Parliament.

 Behind the rhetorical references to the ‘culture of death’ MacDonald is seeking to introduce in Scotland, and her ‘deathly obsession’, there are some old arguments, which remain as weak as ever. Continue reading

Choosing To Die

Matthew Rallison is a sixth-form student who is visiting the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics for his work experience placement.

Sir Terry Pratchett’s documentary, “Choosing to die” and the recent deaths of Ann McPherson and Jack Kevorkian (inventor of the Mercitron) have recently raised the debate of the legalisation of euthanasia, alongside criticism of the BBC’s bias favour towards the subject.

The latter of these issues is, to an extent, accurate as the programme echoes Pratchett’s support of euthanasia. Yet the conclusion of the programme, for me, offered personal reflection, rather than an affirmation that euthanasia (or assisted suicide) is morally correct. Watching, on screen, the death of Peter Smedley was not a compelling argument but humbling. Peter was unassuming as he fell out of consciousness. “A good death,” as Pratchett describes it. The scene offered a powerful impression of human dignity and spirit, rather than promoting death, or suicide. It supported virtue in life (or in leaving it). I reject the ex-Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali’s claim that it the programme depicted “glorified suicide.” It did not.

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