Euthanasia – Mercy Killing (Dr Claude Newbury)

By Doctor Claude Newbury (Former President of Pro-life South Africa)

Euthanasia is a term applied to that form of medical killing in which the life of an innocent human being is ended by the doctor in an attempt to relieve the suffering of the patient. Euthanasia, or to give it its proper name, Mercy Killing, is the deliberate taking of innocent human life.

The fundamental question to be answered in Euthanasia, is the same as must be answered in discussing the morality of abortion. Namely, is it ever morally permissible to kill an innocent human being?

The Differences between various forms of Euthanasia.

In euthanasia the individual is killed either by the action, or by the inaction of a doctor. While it is easy for most people to understand how a person can be killed by the positive action of another, it is somewhat more difficult for many to understand that the deliberate failure to save the life of a patient when it is possible to do so, also has the same result it causes the death of the patient.

In the Euthanasia context, inaction is the deliberate failure of a doctor to act when he is required to do so to save, or to sustain the life of a patient. In other words, to deliberately kill the patient by inaction or neglect.

“Active Euthanasia” is the term used to describe the killing of the patient by some positive action of the doctor.

“Passive Euthanasia” is the term used to describe the killing of the patient by inaction or neglect.

“Active euthanasia” is analogous to a lifesaver in a swimming pool, who instead of saving a drowning person, himself drowns the person. Whereas “Passive euthanasia” is analogous to the lifesaver seeing a drowning person and making no attempt to help him, even at the same time directing him towards deeper water. This is analogous to the withdrawal of food and water from patients unable to feed themselves, who are afflicted by a grave illness such as disseminated advanced cancer.

When the doctor kills a patient at the patients own request this form of killing is called “Voluntary Euthanasia”.

When the doctor kills a patient without the patients request then this form of murder is called “Involuntary Euthanasia”.

When the doctor helps the patient to kill himself, usually by supplying the patient with lethal doses or combinations of drugs, and the means of administering them as in the case of Dr. Kervorkian then this form of killing is called “Assisted Suicide”.

The Moral depravity of Euthanasia.

It is clear that life can be ended with equal efficiency by action or by inaction. For example, in the case of an aviation disaster, the passengers can be killed by the actions of the pilot or by his inaction, i.e. by the pilot deliberately failing to take the necessary action to prevent a disaster. Applying this to the practice of Euthanasia, patients can be killed by the direct positive action of a doctor, or by his inaction when the doctor fails to take the necessary action to save the life of his patient. This difference, i.e. action or inaction, is what differentiates “Active Euthanasia” from “Passive Euthanasia”.

In cases of “Active Euthanasia” patients can be killed quickly and painlessly, whereas in cases of “Passive Euthanasia” the process of dying is slow and can be very painful and distressing to everyone concerned it can take the patient days or weeks to die. Yet this is the method of “mercy killing” used most commonly by doctors. Consequently, because of the distress and pain of “Passive Euthanasia”, the cause of “quick” “Active Euthanasia” is advanced. However, the outcome of “Active” or “Passive Euthanasia” is identical the patient is killed.

The killing of a patient by “Active Euthanasia” or by “Passive Euthanasia”, constitutes the moral crime of murder irrespective of the circumstances of the patient or of the fact that the patient or the family of the patient or the State itself allows the doctor to kill the patient.

The criminality of Euthanasia as murder is not changed by the pathetic circumstances of the person who is killed. For example, if an off duty doctor enters a house and kills a 90 year old man who is bedridden, senile, totally helpless,riddled with advanced and most painful cancer, the doctor has still committed a murder. The fact that a murder has been committed is not altered in the following circumstances of the patient, if he or she:

a) was totally unaware of his surroundings;
b) was “fed artificially”
c) was in extreme pain;
d) was a tremendous burden to his family and society;
e) had 40 years before becoming senile, signed an “enduring power of attorney” otherwise known as “The Living Will”;
d) had frequently expressed his full support for euthanasia;
e) was in a “persistent and vegetative condition”;
f) was suffering from a “terminal illness”;
g) had no “meaningful existence”;
h) was unable to kill himself and 60 years previously in front of many witnesses, had expressed his full support for “assisted suicide”;
i) years ago, while still rational, had expressed the wish for a painless death, for a “death with dignity”. Irrespective of all the foregoing, the doctor is not exonerated of the crime of murder despite his claims to have been deeply moved to pity for the helpless patient, and out of deep compassion, in an act of mercy, had killed him in a totally efficient and painless way, by injecting him with all the morphine he carried in his medical bag.