WHY I BELIEVE IN VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

There are at least two forms of suicide. One is \'emotional suicide\', or irrational self-murder in all of it complexities and sadness. Let me emphasis at once that my view of this tragic form of self-destruction is the same as that of the suicide intervention movement and the rest of society, which is to prevent it wherever possible. I do not support any form of suicide for mental health or emotional reasons.

But I do say that there is a second form of suicide -- justifiable suicide, that is, rational and planned self-deliverance from a painful and hopeless disease which will shortly end in death. I don\'t think the word \'suicide\' sits well in this context but we are stuck with it. Many have tried to popularize the term \'self-deliverance\' but it is an uphill battle because the news media is in love with the words \'assisted suicide\'. Also, we have to face the fact that the law calls all forms of self-destruction \'suicide.\'

Let me point out here for those who might not know it that suicide is no longer a crime anywhere in the English-speaking world. (It used to be, and was punishable by giving all the dead person\'s money and goods to the government.) Attempted suicide is no longer a crime, although under health laws a person can in most states be forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital for three days for evaluation.

But giving assistance in suicide remains a crime, except in the Netherlands in recent times under certain conditions, and it has never been a crime in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Uruguay. The rest of the world punishes assistance in suicide for both the mentally ill and the terminally ill, although the American

state of Oregon recently (Nov. l994) passed by ballot Measure 16 a limited physician-assisted suicide law. At present (Feb. l995) this is held up in the law courts.

Even if a hopelessly ill person is requesting assistance in dying for the most compassionate reasons, and the helper is acting from the most noble of motives, it remains a crime in the Anglo-American world. Punishments range from fines to fourteen years in prison. It is this catch-all prohibition which I and others wish to change. In a caring society, under the rule of law, we claim that there must be exceptions.


ORIGIN OF THE WORD

The word \'euthanasia\' comes from the Greek -- eu, "good", and thanatos, "death". Literally, "good death". But the word \'euthanasia\' has acquired a more complex meaning in modern times. It is generally taken nowadays to mean doing something about achieving a good death.

Suicide, self-deliverance, auto-euthanasia, aid-in-dying, assisted suicide -- call it what you like -- can be justified by the average supporter of the so-called \'right to die\' movement for the following reasons:

Advanced terminal illness that is causing unbearable suffering to the individual. This is the most common reason to seek an early end.

Grave physical handicap which is so restricting that the individual cannot, even after due consideration, counseling and re-training, tolerate such a limited existence. This is a fairly rare reason for suicide -- most impaired people cope remarkably well with their affliction -- but there are some who would, at a certain point, rather die.

What are the ethical parameters for euthanasia?

The person is a mature adult. This is essential. The exact age will depend on the individual but the person should not be a minor who come under quite different laws.

The person has clearly made a considered decision. An individual has the ability nowadays to indicate this with a "Living Will" (which applies only to disconnection of life supports) and can also, in today\'s more open and tolerant climate about such actions, freely discuss the option of euthanasia with health professionals, family, lawyers, etc.

The euthanasia has not been carried out at the first knowledge of a life-threatening illness, and reasonable medical help has been sought to cure or at least slow down the terminal disease. I do not believe in giving up life the minute a person is informed that he or she has a terminal illness. (This is a common misconception spread by our critics.) Life is precious, you only pass this way once, and is worth a fight. It is when the fight is clearly hopeless