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Voluntary euthanasia in the time of COVID-19

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

Should euthanasia, whether voluntary or physician-assisted suicide (PAS), be legal?

Photo. By Carole Railton (Copyright)

Voluntary euthanasia is the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. There can also be physician-assisted suicide (PAS). Both have been the focus of great controversy in recent years. Some forms of voluntary euthanasia are legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand, having recently passed the Right to Life Choice Bill.

In the time of COVID-19, will euthanasia become legal? Is the inability to be treated by a local hospital because too many people are being treated for COVID-19 or coronavirus, and being willing to die, euthanasia?

An interesting discussion needs to be had about when euthanasia is acceptable. The spread of the virus is dominating the news and is resulting in a significant number of deaths. At the time of writing, the US, with 83,500 confirmed cases, is now the epicentre of the virus, overtaking China with 81,782 cases and Italy with 80,589. But the US death toll of 1,200 still lags behind that of China 3,291 and Italy 8,215. Whether the US can limit the death toll depends on its ability to give ventilators to all those who need them and for the staff to wear protective personal equipment (PPE), such as masks.

New Zealand recently passed its Right to Life Choice Bill. So if people say they are ready to die, that they have lived their life, they can do so if COVID-19 strikes. However, this is not possible in the UK. Therefore, will the country make euthanasia legal, surreptitiously? With COVID-19 sweeping the planet and with NHS in the UK unable to cope there may be no choice. News outlets have mentioned the fact that anyone over 70 would be ineligible for treatment on the NHS. Even testing for COVID-19 is unlikely. Would these people be left to die, willingly or by assisted-suicide?

The US is in a similar position to the UK. Euthanasia is illegal in most US states, although assisted suicide is legal in Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington. The status of euthanasia in Montana is disputed. With a shortage of masks, a lack of testing and an unwillingness to treat people who are “deemed too old”, especially when younger people are in need of treatment, is euthanasia a good way out for the US state? Will it be assisted-euthanasia by default?

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