Euthanasia, or mercy killing, is one of the most debatable issues in medical ethics. It contradicts the long-standing moral law of society: “You shall not kill.” It is believed to be alien to traditional ethos and moral focus of medicine. Some argue that terminally ill patients should be able to receive merciful killing.
Proponents of euthanasia raise two of the most important principles in medical ethics to back their argument: respect for patient autonomy and promotion of what is best for the patient. They stress the need to help terminally ill patients avoid a lengthy and unnecessary suffering period. Those who believe withholding of treatment is right in principle forward the idea that it involves failing to prevent death rather than actively causing it.
The most common form of euthanasia is passive euthanasia, withdrawing of treatment. Patients have the right to refuse life-prolonging treatment and reduce their life span. The current UK legislation permits passive euthanasia. All other forms of euthanasia, including physician-assisted killing, are considered as ‘manslaughter’.
Opponents of euthanasia rest their idea on the basic reason that killing is morally wrong, just because it is unnatural. Most of them put the whole idea as against religious principles which may lead doctors and relatives playing God. They endorse the idea that nature should take its course of action when it comes to death. There is a common consensus among these groups that someone who has expressed the wish to receive euthanasia when they are in distress may change their mind later. They also forward the idea that there have been cases where people thought to be a lost cause have actually recovered. Allowing such practices is believed to damage the views of the society towards the terminally ill and the mentally impaired. The legalization of euthanasia is also feared to change the context of health care, particularly for the most vulnerable, and the effect on those in the NHS, where resources are limited, would be immense.
For more information on this topic, I would recommend a short paper of mine that attempts to address the current issues for and against the practice of the different forms of euthanasia, with a global perspective, here.