Euthanasia in America

Euthanasia in AmericaEuthanasia, also known as assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide (dying), doctor-assisted dying (suicide), and more loosely termed mercy killing, means to take a deliberate action with the express intention of ending a life to relieve intractable (persistent, unstoppable) suffering.

Some interpret euthanasia as the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. Many disagree with this interpretation, because it needs to include a reference to intractable suffering.

In the majority of countries euthanasia or assisted suicide is against the law. According to the National Health Service (NHS), UK, it is illegal to help somebody kill themselves, regardless of circumstances. Assisted suicide, or voluntary euthanasia carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison in the UK. In the USA the law varies in some states (see further down).

Euthanasia Classifications

There are two main classifications of euthanasia:

  • Voluntary euthanasia – this is euthanasia conducted with consent. Since 2009 voluntary euthanasia has been legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon (USA) and Washington (USA).
  • Involuntary euthanasia – euthanasia is conducted without consent. The decision is made by another person because the patient is incapable to doing so himself/herself.

There are two procedural classifications of euthanasia:

  • Passive euthanasia – this is when life-sustaining treatments are withheld. The definition of passive euthanasia is often not clear cut. For example, if a doctor prescribes increasing doses of opioid analgesia (strong painkilling medications) which may eventually be toxic for the patient, some may argue whether passive euthanasia is taking place – in most cases, the doctor’s measure is seen as a passive one. Many claim that the term is wrong, because euthanasia has not taken place, because there is no intention to take life.
  • Active euthanasia – lethal substances or forces are used to end the patient’s life. Active euthanasia includes life-ending actions conducted by the patient or somebody else.

Active euthanasia is a much more controversial subject than passive euthanasia. Individuals are torn by religious, moral, ethical and compassionate arguments surrounding the issue. Euthanasia has been a very controversial and emotive topic for a long time.

The term assisted suicide has several different interpretations. Perhaps the most widely used and accepted is “the intentional hastening of death by a terminally ill patient with assistance from a doctor, relative, or another person.”

Some people will insist that something along the lines of “in order relieve intractable (persistent, unstoppable) suffering” needs to be added to the meaning, while others insist that “terminally ill patient” already includes that meaning.

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About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

2 comments on Euthanasia in America

  1. Cat says:

    I am a new listener to this podcast and love it!
    This episode was very interesting, and I appreciated the perspective shared by you and your guests. You are all clearly very intelligent, professional, and compassionate people.
    However, I do wish that a broader perspective was offered on this topic. Darren, I felt you did a great job moderating the discussion despite knowing your personal opinion on this. I think it would’ve been even more powerful to have a medical expert who is supportive of euthanasia to answer some of the devils advocate questions you posed. Especially regarding the difference between letting someone die, respecting a DNR order, or respecting religiously-based decisions (of an adult for themselves) to deny certain medical treatment to what you call active euthanasia.
    I also think it might be beneficial to read the legislation of states and countries who have legalized physician-assisted suicide. They are written with the “timing is everything” concept you guys discussed. It is not for someone who just decides one day to kill themselves. There is a very, very lengthy process for a terminally-ill person to get the prescription for life-ending medication, which includes psychological evaluation (multiple visits, not just a one-and-done thing). Physicians can choose if they participate in the practice or not, which I think is right in line with other borderline-ethical procedures. This process can take months to do from start to finish (and by finish I mean by the time the patient has the medication in their possession….there are a lot of people who go through the entire journey of getting life-ending medication and then never use it). Therefore, there is a lot of time for a patient to discuss their wishes with their family. I ask: what is the difference between a person with cystic fibrosis telling her parents she has a DNR order, versus telling her parents she will end her own life the next time she is having a serious, likely life-ending episode? I feel like in both cases, we’re saying the same thing: she is voluntarily choosing to die. Her family will have to deal with the consequences of either decision in much the same way. One could argue (and I realize this is not the case for everyone) that her family would have MORE time to process her death if they all go through the physician-assisted suicide route (months) versus her passing away from a DNR situation (which could be immediate).
    Not trying to change any minds here, just sharing some opposing views. LOVE this podcast…I’m currently in a masters program for forensic science and have shared this website with my entire class today. I’ll definitely give you a perfect rating on iTunes!!! Keep up the great work!

    1. Darren Dake says:

      Cat. I agree with what you say, it certainly is a two sided idea. I’m glad you enjoy the podcast and if there is ever anything I can do to help just let me know…

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