"I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel".
This oath is known as "The Hippocratic Oath". It was sworn by a Greek physician by the name of Hippocrates, or otherwise known as the "Father of Medicine", in the year 400 B.C..
Although such defined quotation is unfamiliar to the non-medical professionals, it states the purposes of the medical professions - saving and valuing lives.
Euthanasia or mercy killing can be defined as the intention of killing oneself, by act or omission, for his or her own benefit. Euthanasia can be voluntary, non-voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia is when a person requested for his life to be terminated, whereas non-voluntary euthanasia is an act of terminating life without the request or consent from the person. Involuntary euthanasia is when the person whose life is to be terminated made a wish that is contrary to the objective.
From the beginning of the 14th century through the 20th century, euthanasia was considered a taboo subject. According to Chief Justice Rehnquist, for over 700 years, the Anglo American common law had condemned both suicide and assisted suicide. Chief justice Rehnquist further commented that if one had counselled another to commit suicide, and the other by reason of the advice killed himself, the advisor will be guilty of murder as principal.
Though euthanasia was once prohibited by all nations, there had been attempts to argue the need for this alternative procedure to end a person's sufferings. An example of such advocates would be the Euthanasia Society of England, which was formed in 1935 to promote euthanasia.
It wasn't until five years later that a nation was willing to accept euthanasia as part of their medical system. In 1939, the Nazis legalised euthanasia to eliminate selective group of people. At the beginning, doctors and midwives were required to report children or babies below age three, who showed symptoms of mental retardation, physical retardation or any other symptoms that was highlighted by Reich Health Ministry. This program was later expanded and targeted on young and disabled adults. However, Germany eliminated the practice of euthanasia soon after the defeat of the Nazis in World War II.
In 1995, Australia's Northern Territory caused an upheaval in the medical world by accepting euthanasia. It was practiced for a year in the Northern Territory before the Australian Parliament overturned it in 1997.
After the abolishment of euthanasia in Australia, there were instances of legalised euthanasia. The following are the only places in the world where euthanasia may be considered by a terminally ill patient as an option to end one's life:
1998 - U.S state of Oregon legalises assisted suicide 2000 - The Netherlands legalises euthanasia 2002 - Belgium legalises euthanasia (Source from www.euthanasia.com)
In U.S. state of Oregon, only assisted suicide, which is another form of euthanasia, is legalised. In assisted suicide, qualified medical professionals, relatives or close friends provide the patient with the guidance, information, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that the advice, medicine or equipments will be used for this purpose. The term "physician assisted suicide" is used when a doctor's help is required to help the patient end his or her life.
Euthanasia challenge one's judgements and imagination on the ethical issues concerning the dire consequences of ending another human being's life. Only a small number of the worldwide population would agree on euthanasia being an alternative to end a terminally ill patient's sufferings.
Our civilised society uses the system of ethics embedded within an individual or society to challenge the imagination and weigh a situation upon confronting a moral dilemma. In this case, considering the fairness, righteousness and the justification of euthanasia. Ending one's life by choice or taking one's life by choice is definitely an unethical endeavour in our civilised world. Doctors and other qualified medical professionals act as moral agents and they need to understand their roles as the ethical standards often differ among different societies. Although it may be permissible to carry out euthanasia or assisted suicide in Oregon, Holland and Belgium, the doctors from these countries must understand the outcome of their ethical judgments. Legalised or not, if a doctor or any other qualified medical professional advocates euthanasia in his or her practice, they may be violating their own personal beliefs of saving and valuing lives, thus creating an internal conflict within their minds.
Mr. C. Everett Koop, a former surgeon general from the United States said that there is a difference between allowing nature to take to take its course and actively assisting death. He believed that euthanasia is a concept that is a direct conflict with religious and ethical tradition. A medicine cannot be used for both healing and killing.