Ethical Issues Euthanasia

BBC (2014) explains that Euthanasia is an intentional act of killing an individual painlessly which is construed as beneficial like reliving pain to a dying person. Euthanasia can be classified as voluntary euthanasia, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. In voluntary euthanasia, an individual makes a decision consciously to die and requests for assistance. In non-voluntary euthanasia the patient or the victim is unable to give consent because their brain maybe severely damaged or in a coma, and another individual makes that decision for them especially if the patient had wished that his or her life be ended. Lastly is involuntary euthanasia which is the act of killing an individual against their will.

Difference between Active and Passive Euthanasia

Euthanasia can also be classified either as active or passive. Active euthanasia is known is describing cases where a healthcare professional performs an action that is intended to cause death, one example is giving a lethal injection. On the other hand, passive euthanasia occurs if an ill person dies because the healthcare professional either fails to do something to keep the patient alive or stops to perform an act that was keeping the patient alive. Such actions may include failure to give life extending drugs, failure of carrying a life extending operation, disconnecting a feeding tube or switching off life supporting machine (Garrand & Wilkison, 2017).

According to Garrand and Wilkison (2017), passive and active euthanasia can be distinct by moral difference. All over the world, the general legal position that whereas active euthanasia is illegal unless permitted by legislation, passive euthanasia remains legal even in the absentia of legislation that safeguards and maintains some conditions. There is an argument of some philosophers that active euthanasia is morally better. They explain that it is better because it is cleaner and quicker and to the patient, it may be less painful. In United States, active euthanasia is illegal and also in other countries except Belgium and Netherland while passive euthanasia contains a legal right in United States together with other countries where a client is given a chance to refuse medical treatment. There lacks any real difference between active and passive euthanasia as they both have the same result, the patient loss of life through humanitarian ground.

Ethical Issues of Active and Passive Euthanasia

John Rachels argues that there lacks a tenable distinction between letting die and killing. Therefore, there should be no tenable ethical difference between passive euthanasia (which is legal) and active euthanasia (which is illegal). From a patient’s view, the outcome is similar whether he/she was allowed to die or killed. In particular cases, there exists a practical difference between these two where it is believed that killing is less painful. According to Rachels argument Garrand and Wilkison (2017), killing is not intrinsically worse than letting die. According to him, if action A and B have a similar motive, the same actual consequences and the same intended consequences, then actions should be morally equivalent to the two parties using the principle of moral equivalence.

According to Garrand and Wilkison (2017), the distinction between passive and active euthanasia is crucial in medical ethics. At least in some cases, the idea is permissible to let a patient die and withholding medication. However it is unacceptable to take away direct action to the patient in taking away their life. The active-passive distinction is cut using Rachels theory and the voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. This categorization is important as it reveals the possibility of looking at some euthanasia as morally less objectionable than others.

Garrand and Wilkison (2017) explain that the standard categorization have recently been criticized especially the passive euthanasia from different authoritative source. For example, the Select Committee on Medical Ethics of the House of Lords describes passive euthanasia as misleading. Not all cases of withholding or withdrawing life pro-longing treatment are cases of passive euthanasia because the passive euthanasia ground is the interest of a patient. Some individuals assert that both types of euthanasia are morally wrong and should not be given irrespective of the preceding case. Modern medicine on the other hand is advocating active euthanasia in cases of painful and hopeless illness.

New York Euthanasia Laws

Reuters (2016) explains that physician assisted suicide is only allowed in five states; Oregen, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. In New York, the act of Euthanasia is illegal and considered a crime. This is considered as manslaughter and if an individual is found guilty he or she may be charged with second degree manslaughter. Additionally, in the Public Health Law, there is a section demonstrating the policy of New York State towards euthanasia which specifies that the statute is not intended to permit or promote suicide, euthanasia or assisted suicide.

While assisted suicide and euthanasia throughout the United States remains illegal, many states inclusive of New York allows the extraction of the life-sustaining procedures and machines which refers to procedures, medications and/or treatments which takes over the operation of bodily functions or vital organ (Reuters, 2016). According to Reuters (2016), in the code section of Euthanasia Condoned in Statutes in Public Health Law §2989 states that ‘‘Statute not intended to promote or permit suicide, assisted suicide, or euthanasia; nor to be construed to permit agent to consent to any act or omission to which the principal could not consent under law.’’


BBC,. (2014). Ethical problems of euthanasia. Ethics Guide. Retrieved from

Garrand, & Wilkison,. (2017). Clinical ethics: Passive euthanasia. Medical Ethics, 34, 64-68.

Reuters, T. (2016). New York Euthanasia Laws. Findlaw. Retrieved from

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