What is euthanasia?

Publié le 29 Feb, 2008
Whereas the debate on the end of life is relaunched in France, Mgr Jacques Suaudeau, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, granted Zenit a long interview about euthanasia.
Definition of euthanasia
Forged in the 18th century by Francis Bacon, the word “euthanasia” has its origin in the Greek locutions “eu” and “thanatos” which mean an “easy and smooth death”. Since then, its meaning has developed and, today, we could define euthanasia as the “act to deliberately kill an incurable ill patient in order to put an end to his pains; or even to avoid the extension of hard life; or even to put an end to a life estimated as unworthy for a human being, and all this for a pity reason“. At the same time, new definitions appear and disturb the thought. Thus we talk about “active euthanasia which would be to directly kill, and “passiveeuthanasia.  With “passive” euthanasia, some people think about “letting the patient die” according to the development of his disease, without giving him useless treatments. In this precise case, euthanasia called “passive” is not euthanasia, as non obstinate therapeutics is not euthanasia. In this case, it is not advisable to use the word “euthanasia”.
Direct (by injection) or indirect (by stopping feeding) euthanasia is always “active” and is defined by a willing to give death.
Moreover, plenty of euphemic and technical terms used to smooth the term of euthanasia exist but they mean in fact the same violent reality, we cite “stopping tube feeding”, stopping tube feeding/hydration, the “analgesia at end of life”…
Euthanasia in the history
In pagan antiquity, this practice was generally well perceived because it was considered as a “worthy death”. Then, with the advent of Christianity, the idea to face the death with dignity and confidence in the hereafter became widespread. But then, this concept left place to doubts and euthanasia was put on a pedestal by Nazism and its “Aktion T4 euthanasia” operation, which killed around 200,000 victims.
Pro-euthanasia lobby
After this drama, the movement in favour of euthanasia became silent, giving place to the movement for abortion, the time these Nazi acts are forgotten. This pro-euthanasia lobby is an international movement, supported by people like Dr Jack Kevorkian in USA or Philip Nitschke in Australia, and is very organised. It progressed by steps, introducing new semantics, from “mercy murder” to “right to die” passing through the right “to die with dignity” and using a difficult case to generalise (Vincent Humbert, in France).
The death denied
Today euthanasia is particularly admitted in Occident given that our relationship to death is disturbed: We passed from integrated and managed death to hidden and dehumanised death.  Pain, suffering and death are human realities our societies try to deny; followed by the temptation to escape from the last moments of life.
End-of-life patients need to be accompanied. If palliative care accompanies these patients, the rest of the society should not be uninterested in them: the assistance to dying patient concerns everybody. The accompaniment is particularly necessary given that the last moments of life are important to live completely their death.  And this can only be achieved if the physician-patient relationship based on reciprocal confidence is not undermined by euthanasia possibility. 

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