'Should the physician ever speed the end and so reduce the patient's suffering? No. Custom, tradition, experience, social sanction, law, and religion are unanimous in this, and rightly so. Euthanasia would be a long step backward in civilization.'
- Richard A. Kern, 1951
Euthanasia is defined as 'the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependant human being for his or her alleged benefit'. It is also referred to as 'mercy killing'. The word 'Euthanasia' takes its origin from the Greek words, 'eu' meaning 'good' and 'thanatos' meaning 'death'.
Euthanasia is voluntary, when the subject puts forth a request seeking to end his life. If a surrogate, who is a close relative or a friend takes the decision on behalf of the individual, who is either too young or is mentally challenged, it is non voluntary euthanasia.
Assisted Suicide, which is also a form of mercy killing, takes place when a person, who intends to eliminate himself, is abetted by a third party, usually a doctor, who provides the guidance, to carry out the task effectively.
Euthanasia is propagated by its advocates, as a permanent solution for people tormented by chronic pain, and whose quality of life, and thereby dignity, is compromised. The advocates also point out, that people suffering from degenerative diseases like Huntingdon's Chorea, AIDS, or Alzheimer's, can attain 'deliverance' through euthanasia.
However, several theories are forwarded against these killings from various quarters. Brain washing a chronically- dependant person to resort to euthanasia, cost containment of health- care provided to terminally ill individuals, and the misuse of euthanasia by its perpetrators, are some of the reasons that euthanasia is not yet legalized in most countries.
The state of Oregon in the USA, The Netherlands, Belgium and Australia's Northern Territory are some of the places where euthanasia and assisted suicide is permitted under law. In most countries, as in India, euthanasia is not legalized, although its passive version, like taking a 'hopeless' case off the life support system, is quite prevalent.
The reason for our entry into this world, and the purpose of each of our lives, is an enigma. Death, however, remains the greatest mystery. Are we justified in perpetrating an act that could take life? Are we justified in taking something that we could never ever give? These are some of the philosophical questions one has to weigh against the medical indications before accepting euthanasia for any patient. Every case has to stand on its own merit and it maybe perhaps best for an ethics committee that is independent of the hospital that takes the decision on an individual case rather than the medical practitioner.
Now put it, God, in the physician's mind To help him to his grave immediately!- Shakespeare, William. Richard II, act I, scene iv.
Reference - Kern, Richard A. The care of the aged. In Musser JH, Wohl MG (eds). Internal Medicine: Its Theory and Practice, 5th ed, ch. 29. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger; 1951, p. 1394.