Friday, July 23, 2010

Nursing Ethics and Euthanasia

Recently the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association published a study from Belgium concerning the role of nurses within the Belgium euthanasia law. The study questioned nurses on their role and it found that of the 248 euthanasia cases that were carried out by nurses that 120 of those cases were done without request or consent.

Susan White sent me this short article on Nursing Ethics and Euthanasia. I have published it without changes.

Nursing Ethics and Euthanasia

By: Susan White

Nowhere is the issue of ethics more relevant than in the field of medicine - the world of drugs and surgeries and other curative and preventive techniques that seeks to cure our ills, is also, in what is one of the greatest ironies of life, capable of wreaking much destruction on the human body, psyche and soul. Like any other weapon, its use and misuse lies in the way we wield it, and of late, the issue of euthanasia is a thorn in the flesh of many an ethical dilemma.

To kill or not to kill, that is the question! There must be a pretty straightforward answer because we all know that killing is morally, ethically and legally wrong. But when it comes to a life that is no longer a life or one that is in too much pain with no chance of survival, do we get to decide when and how that life should be extinguished? Euthanasia, for all its medical roots, is actually a very personal decision. In any situation that deals with life, suffering, pain and death, even if the patient wants to end it all, the law must first permit it. And even if the allows it, there must be a doctor who believes it is right and carries it out for you.

The role of nurses in euthanasia has not really been documented in great detail; perhaps this is because they are more bystanders than actual participants, but the burning question in this issue is if the personal ethics of the attending nurse allow him/her to be a willing part of the process. Nurses don’t have to take an oath like doctors do before they start to practice medicine. But they too are bound by the ethics of their profession. Unlike doctors’ ethics, nurses are more concerned with the personal aspect of patient care. For them, it is important that they establish a personal relationship with the patient that will allow them to provide the best care possible. Doctors on the other hand are bound by their ethics to do what is professionally right even though it may not be what the patient wants.

This is where the dilemma sets in – if the patient wants to be euthanized and if the doctor is against the process, what does the nurse do? Can they support the patient or are they bound to abide by the instructions of the doctor? Ethics in the field of nursing is on a very sticky wicket when it comes to euthanasia. The law of a country may allow or disallow it, and when it is permitted legally, how do nurses take stand when they’re personally against taking a life for any reason whatsoever? Do they follow their own ethics or are they bound by the law to honor the ethics of the medical profession?

Euthanasia by itself is a sticky wicket – there are varying opinions from all quarters. In the end however, nurses are mere pawns in the process, following orders and going about their routine no matter what their personal stand on the issue is.

By-line: This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of online radiology technician schools ( 

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