Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is Argentina discussing the legalization of euthanasia?

The language of the euthanasia debate will often create confusion around what is euthanasia and what is not euthanasia. The confusion concerning the language of the debate is part of the recent debate in Argentina.

A recent news headline stated: Argentina mulls allowing euthanasia. When I linked to the full article in Spanish and then copied that text into a translator, I quickly learned that Argentina is discussing issues related to when it is acceptable to withhold or withdraw medical treatment.

The issue that has created the debate is a two-year old girl who was was born "dead" and revived and has been in a non-responsive condition since birth. The article is referring to the debate to withdraw treatment as being euthanasia.

Euthanasia is an action or omission of an action that directly and intentionally causes the death of a person, to eliminate suffering. Therefore, an act of euthanasia must be direct and intentional. Natural death or the withdrawal of treatment that is futile, burdensome or without benefit is not euthanasia. The proper use of large doses of pain killing drugs is not euthanasia. The proper use of sedation techniques is not euthanasia.

Ethically, it is euthanasia to withdraw fluids and food from a person, who is not otherwise dying, with the intention of causing death. The person in this case intentionally dies from dehydration and not a natural death.

But to withdraw medical treatment from a person and allowing them to die a natural death is not euthanasia and should not be referred to as euthanasia. The problem is that, in the past, the act of withdrawing medical treatment, even when it was futile, burdensome and without benefit, was referred to as passive euthanasia.

After reading the full translated article from Argentina, it appears that they are not debating the legalization of euthanasia but rather the ethical guidelines for withdrawing life-sustaining treatment.

I will require more information before further comments can be made.

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