Margaret Somerville on Euthanasia

Margaret Somerville had some fantastic articles on euthanasia recently. First, an article in the Globe (via ProWomanProLife) which presents a comprehensive overview of the problems with euthanasia, namely the trend of initially requiring some sort of justification but quickly giving way to euthanasia without justification, or even pressure towards euthanasia over actual health care which may be more expensive.

Also, she wrote an article for the Ottawa Citizen on why ‘pulling the plug’ isn’t euthanasia (also via ProWomanProLife, emphasis mine).

In my experience, [people] are confused with respect to the ethical and legal differences between withdrawal of treatment that results in death and euthanasia, and why the former can be ethically and legally acceptable, provided certain conditions are fulfilled, and the latter cannot be. This is a central and important distinction in the euthanasia debate, which needs to be understood.


First, the primary intention is different in the two cases: In withdrawing life-support treatment the primary intention is to respect the patient’s right to refuse treatment; in euthanasia it is to kill the patient. The former intention is ethically and legally acceptable; the latter is not.


This brings us to the issue of legal causation, which also differentiates refusals-of-treatment-that-result-in-death from euthanasia. In the former, the person dies from their underlying disease — a natural death. The withdrawal of treatment is the occasion on which death occurs, but not its cause. If the person had no fatal illness, they would not die. We can see that when patients who refuse treatment and are expected to die, do not die. In contrast, in euthanasia death is certain and the cause of death is the lethal injection. Without that, the person would not die at that time from that cause.


The issue in the euthanasia debate is not if we die — we all eventually die. The issue is how we die and whether some means of dying, such as euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, should remain legally prohibited.

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