The latter procedure is also referred to as “voluntary active euthanasia” (VAE).
I will not deal with the issue of involuntary euthanasia –where the suffering patient’s life is terminated without their explicit consent -– a procedure which, to my mind, is ethically much more problematic.
Both clearly are observable and describable actions, and both are the direct causes of the patient’s death.
There are a number of reasons for the opposition to physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia.
It is hard to deny the right of an 85-year-old with terminal cancer of the pancreas and almost no family and friends left, to commit suicide or ask for assisted death.
In this case, he or she both has the right, and will be in the right if exercising that right.The main victims of such possible abuse could well be the most vulnerable and indigent members of society: the poor, the disabled and the like.Those who cannot pay for prolonged accommodation in expensive health care facilities and intensive care units.Anton van Niekerk is director of the Centre for Applied Ethics and Head of the Unit for Bioethics in that Centre.The Unit receives an annual contribution from Mediclinic, but that is not for the exclusive use of Anton van Niekerk.The value bestowed on human life in all religious traditions and almost all cultures, such as the prohibition on murder is so pervasive that it is an element of common, and not statutory, law.Objections from the medical profession to being seen or utilised as “killers” rather than saviours of human life, as well as the sometimes well-founded fear of the possible abuse of physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia, is a further reason.Euthanasia represents one of the oldest issues in medical ethics.It is forbidden in the original Hippocratic Oath, and has consistently been opposed by most religious traditions since antiquity – other than, incidentally, abortion, which has only been formally banned by the Catholic Church since the middle of the 19th century. I will limit myself in this article to the issue of assisted death, which seems to me to be one of the most pressing issues of our time.Most of those issues (for example the danger of the exploitation of vulnerable patients) I believe, can be satisfactorily dealt with by regulation.The most compelling argument in favour of physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia is the argument in support of committing suicide in a democracy.