The Distinction Between Passive and Active Euthanasia

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Rachel argues that ‘[T]he distinction between passive and active euthanasia is thought to be crucial for medical ethics. The idea is that it is permissible, at least in some cases, to withhold treatment and allow a patient to die.’ The law has drawn a clear distinction between the removal of life sustaining treatment that causes death and a request for assistance in ending life. Passive euthanasia is considered lawful whereas active euthanasia is unlawful as per the Suicide Act . In Bland a distinction was made between killing through an act and letting die through an omission. It was argued in this instance, that the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration (“ANH”) was held to be an omission and the patient would die as a result of their underlying conditions. To come to this conclusion is illogical, Bland would have continued living but for the removal of ANH, therefore his death was as a result of renal failure due to dehydration and starvation. In reaching this conclusion the court held ANH to be medical treatment and could be withdrawn if it served no purpose, this argument was based on claims of medical futility. Bland can be contrasted with the case R(on the application of Pretty v DPP. Pretty failed in her bid to secure advanced immunity for her husband if he assisted her in ending her life. The court in upheld the contention that assisting suicide would continue to fall within the scope of the Suicide Act. In doing so, it continued to place greater emphasis on the distinction between acts and omissions in terms of assisted dying and withdrawal of life sustaining treatment. To advocate such a position is illogical, as the withdrawal of treatment most likely will involve an act on the part of the physician. L... ... middle of paper ... Cavendish 2007) Major T J, ‘Life: Sanctity or Quality?’ (1988) 3 Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine 19 Otlowski M, Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1997 Rachel J, ‘Active and Passive Euthanasia’ (1975) 2 New England Journal of Medicine 78 Rietjens J A et al, ‘Two Decades of Research on Euthanasia from the Netherlands: What have we learnt and what questions remain? (2009) 6 Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 271 Shaw A B, ‘Two Challenges to the Double Effect Doctrine: Euthanasia and Abortion’ (2002) 28 Journal of Medical Ethics 102 Smith M, ‘Patients and Doctors: Rights and Responsibilities in the NHS (2)’ (2005) 5 Clinical Medicine 501 Steinbock B, ‘The Case for Assisted Suicide: Not (Yet) Proven’ (2005) 31 Journal of Medical Ethics 235 Wacks R, Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory (3rd edn Oxford: OUP 2012 )

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