EUTHANASIA, mercy killing, assisted suicide and other...

Salmagundi

October 09, 1992

EUTHANASIA, mercy killing, assisted suicide and other means of ending the life of a pain-ridden, hopelessly terminal patient are as controversial in other countries as they are here. A recent case in Britain drew this comment from the London Economist:

"Hard cases make bad law, so the saying goes; but what are lawmakers to do when all the cases are hard?

"Mercy-killing by doctors presents just such a difficulty. The deed is done often, in most countries; it cannot be stamped out, nor should it be. Yet every attempt to legalize it raises specters of an unacceptable bureaucracy of death . . .

"One way . . . is to recognize such motives of mercy [as the desire of a hopelessly and painfully ill patient who wants to die and whose family agrees] as a possible defense against charges of murder and manslaughter.

"When a patient is terminally ill, clearly wants to die sooner and has unbearable sufferings that cannot otherwise be relieved, courts should be allowed -- where they see fit -- to say 'not guilty.'

"This does not provide a solution to all the problems of euthanasia. There are both easier sorts of cases -- 'passive' TC euthanasia, or letting die, which is becoming widely accepted in some circumstances -- and harder ones. The harder ones include what to do if the patient cannot express his wishes and has made no 'living will' to say what they are, or if there is extreme suffering but no impending death, or if the patient's family disagree with the patient. Those unresolved questions are no reason to stall . . ."

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