Section Nine: Voluntary Euthanasia

Voluntary euthanasia is simply not voluntary if there is any degree of persuasion or pressure placed on a patient. Care for the old, the infirm and the terminally ill should be of an exceptionally high standard so that those who feel that the burden of life is unbearable are in the minority. But the choice to terminate life must always be voluntary: It is an optional choice that should be legal for the individual who, under no pressure from any persons whatsoever, decides that the termination of his or her life is the best option. As with abortion, it is a right to choose. But having made the choice to die, the individual is often asking for assistance in dying.

The rationale for voluntary euthanasia is sound and is supported by most humanists. It suggests that a person has a right to die when there can be no further quality in his or her life. But since there may be no possibility of coherent communication for a dying person in the last phases of life, the right to choose now when in sound mind, what one would wish to happen in such a situation, is part of the rationale of the right to choose. Voluntary euthanasia would, therefore, be an option to those individuals for whom suffering at the end of life is too painful and distressing and who, in such circumstances, are able themselves to choose to die.

It would also be an option to those who may choose to decide in advance the conditions under which they might not wish to live. Such decisions are both situational and personal. They are decisions that might well be abhorrent for some, and important for others. The essential factor is the quality of life of the individual and the right of an individual to balance the loss of quality against prolonging life; in other words to control his or her own life. This is a thoroughly humanist principle.

Voluntary euthanasia societies usually supply a kind of document that is an Advanced Directive, Living Will, or Do Not Resuscitate Order. Importantly, such a document does not ask a doctor to break the law. It simply indicates the wishes of a person concerning the withholding of treatment in certain medical conditions. In other words, it conveys the wishes of someone with a sound mind that, should a fatal condition occur, life is not to be prolonged by medical treatment where there can be no hope of recovery. Such a form is normally retained by one’s medical practitioner. In some cases, a Living Will Alert Card or the like can be carried to indicate that a living will have been signed.

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