Mercy killing debate: should euthanasia be legalized?


Mercy killing debate: should euthanasia be legalized

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Many new cases of physician-assisted suicide or mercy killing are emerging in Western countries. Some of them have regulated it. Do you think euthanasia  should be legalized? Under what circumstances? Do we have the right to die as we choose?

Mercy Killing Debate

Euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, also know as mercy killing, is becoming a prominent public debate. The implications of legalizing assisted suicide are wide-ranging from a medical, legal, political and ethical point of view. 

The term euthanasia means "good death" in Greek. With the progress of medicine in multiple domains (e.g. anesthesiology, pain medicine) came the problem of the decision of death. Some countries, like for instance Belgium, The Netherlands, and some states in the USA, including New Mexico, Montana, Oregon and Vermont, have passed laws allowing voluntary euthanasia. But the legality of choosing the moment of death is an extremely controversial subject because it appeals to personal views on ethics and morality and is highly emotional and linked to religious beliefs. Most countries still consider euthanasia a crime. Some people consider allowing euthanasia to risk opening a slippery slope where killing may become more common, and risk the killing of people misinformed or against their will. These people also worry about the risk of killing any person with some sort of suffering (e.g. mental disability, physical handicap). Supporters of euthanasia claim it is an individual right to decide when to die, to keep control of their fate when it is still possible.

Types of euthanasia

There are different types of euthanasia according to whether the will of the patient has been expressed.

  • Voluntary euthanasia: to intentionally end the life of someone who asked for it to relieve physical pain and psychological suffering. It can be considered as assisted suicide. Patient gives informed consent. An official signed document in which one declares one wants to be euthanized.
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia: consent of the patient is unavailable. Usually family members are asked about the possible will of the patient as well as their own wish.
  • Involuntary euthanasia is against the patient’s will and is illegal, considered as murder, in most countries. 

Euthanasia can also be divided into:

  • Passive euthanasia: when the family or medical staff withhold life support (e.g. medication, respiratory machine, feeding or liquids) from the patient.
  • Active euthanasia: when the patient is administered (e.g. injected) a lethal dose of any chemical substance to end her/life. 

And you? Do you support mercy killing? Should euthanasia be legalized? Before voting and commenting you may want to consider the pros and cons of legalizing physician-assisted suicide (see below).

Watch this video on the mercy killing debate

Euthanasia pros and cons


  • Dying with dignity: some people are deeply sick, postrated and unable to do even the most basic human actions, such as eating, changing clothes, washing themselves or using the toilets. They often find their state degrading and humilliating and may prefer to die with dignity and stop being a burden to those around them.
  • End to human suffering: people with terminal illness and no chance of recovery often suffer great physical pain and emotional distress. Ending their lives, if they wish so, can spare them from an unnecessary suffering.
  • Legal certainty: according to research conducted in the Netherlands, regulating euthanasia has improved legal certainty and has contributed to the carefulness of assisted suicide.
  • Healthcare spending: keeping alive terminal patients who are suffering and not able to recover is also very expensive and detracts medical resources from other patients who could heal or need treatments. Families of the patients who want to end their lives may also face bills which can very negatively affect their finances.
  • Autonomy and self-determination: opposing to someone's will of ending her/his life goes against that person freedom and right of deciding on their future.


  • Moral and ethical problems: physician assisted death clashes with religious beliefs. Many religions state that human life end should not be decided by people but by God. 
  • Misunderstandings and errors: there are cases in which doctors have wrongfully diagnosed a terminal disease or have thought that a patient is without hope of recovery. However, medicine evolves and cures may be found. Some new treatments may become effective were others failed. So terminating someone's life even with her/his consent may be a mistake.
  • Legalizing murder: regulating euthanasia for some extreme cases may mean crossing a line. It has been argued that this could be a slippery slope which could end up with the legalization of an increasing number of cases for ending a life for utilitarian reasons.
  • Abuse: if euthanasia is legal, there may be an incentive to exaggerate the negative condition of patients so that the family decides to "disconnect" them so that the hospital or insurance company saves money.
  • Complexity: even if countries decide to legalize euthanasia, there may be great difficulties in agreeing with the cases and situations in which these mercy killings are acceptable and with the legal procedures that should be respected.

Taking all these pros and cons into consideration and the experience in the territories where it has been legalized, what would you recommend doing?

You may also want to participate in our debates on the legalization of cannabis, prostitution, and same sex marriage.

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Mercy killing debate: should euthanasia be legalized?

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