Euthanasia - An overview about forms, differences and difficulties

Presentation (Elaboration), 2006

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. „Hook“ of the presentation

2. Introduction

3. Forms of euthanasia
a) Passive euthanasia
b) Active (or direct) euthanasia
c) Active homicide
d) Indirect euthanasia
e) Assisted suicide

4. The situation within Germany and the relevant laws

5. Situation in other european countries
a) The Netherlands and Belgium
b) Switzerland
c) Other european countries

6. Possible alternatives to euthanasia

7. Difficulties of euthanasia

8. Arguments in favour of and against euthanasia

9. Conclusion

10. Literatur

Appendix: Well-known cases of euthanasia

1. „Hook“ of the presentation

Imagine the situation: If somebody you love is in serious and ongoing pain and they asked you to help them to die. What would you do?…

2. Introduction

Because of the great advances in medicine and the ever increasing average age in Europe, a discussion of the topic of euthanasia has come to the fore in the last years. The term „euthanasia“ originally comes from Greek and means „good death“. In ancient Greek society it meant the right of the individual to choose his own form of death, for example if he no longer felt, that living his life had any value. „Good death“, or euthanasia, involved a process of fast and easy death, without great suffering. However within Christian belief suicide is regarded as a sin, and therefore, the original meaning of euthanasia has been greatly altered. Today it means medical professionals helping incurably ill people, in order to spare them from agonizing suffering. Another negative connotation of „euthanasia“ is its use in genocide during the second world war, when certain people, who were considered inferior such as jews, handicapped people, seriously ill people etc. were exterminated. The Nazis claimed, this was for the benefit of the suffering person and for the benefit of the general public. This is one of the reasons why a discussion about the topic has been such a taboo in Germany for many years, so that an objective and critical examination of this issue is long overdue.

In such a complex discussion there can be no easy solutions, and inevitably there will always be strong and differing opinions. Perhaps the best solution lies in a compromise being found by all sides, and by people informing themselves about the facts and circumstances of euthanasia. The aim of my presentation is to provide some information on the subject, and I would hope to make the recipients think about the issue and to encourage them to discuss it afterwards.

3. Forms of euthanasia

We have to distinguish between active and passive euthanasia, which cannot always clearly be differentiated from each other.

a) Passive euthanasia...

...means to „let die“. An example is, when a doctor refuses to give or stops the treatment of life-preserving measures, for instance artificial respiration, dialysis, reanimation or total parenteral nutrition. In this case, the doctor doesn’t intervene actively in the medical treatment. For a long time this form has been recognized as a practice in the end stages of an incurable illness. If the doctor helps a patient who is dying, so long as the dying process has already started, the doctor remains unpunished. This form of euthanasia is only punishable by law, if it was practiced without the agreement of the patient and/or if there was no evidence that the patient was already nearing death. Passive euthanasia is only permissible, if medical treatment, for example life-preserving measures, would diminish the right of a person to die with dignity.

b) Active (or direct) euthanasia...

...means homicide on demand by the patient through intervention from the outside, mostly through a doctor. This form of euthanasia is not allowed to be practiced in Germany, even if the patient demands it explicitly. The medical procedure would be to administer poisonous substances, ot to give an overdose of medicine or anaesthetics.

c) Active homicide

For this form of euthanasia the doctor decides autonomously to kill a patient without any agreement from the patient concerned - for instance a person in coma vigil. The doctor and his nursing staff nonetheless get punished for commiting a homicide, without any consideration of their motives. These motives are unimportant for their sentencing.

d) Indirect euthanasia

This form is also seen als a kind of active euthanasia. The doctor gives a patient medicine, for instance a pain-reliever like morphine, knowing, that as a side effect, the treatment will result in the earlier death of the patien. The doctor choses the benefit of easing the patients pain over the longevity of the patient. Indirect euthanasia is allowed in Germany and even required treatment: That is, it would be seen as being against the medical code, if a doctor refused to administer the necessary strong pain-relievers, because he didn’t want to be the cause of bringing on the earlier death of the patient. Due to the neglect of the patient’s pain, the doctor would probably be punished for failure to render assistance, or even fined for assault.

e) Assisted suicide

A doctor can provide a patient, who has already expressed the wish to die, with all the medical requirements, he needs for suicide, without the danger of being punished himself. But the patient has to take the last step of the process alone. The doctor provides the lethal medicine, but the patient has to take it by himself. Suicide attempts cannot be prosecuted in Germany, and therefore, assisted suicide is also not punishable by law. After handing over the lethal medicine to the patient, the doctor has to leave the room, in order not to be legally liable, because of failure to render assistance. However this is often criticized, because being left alone to die, is not seen as humane practice.

3. The situation within Germany and the relevant laws

No legal regulation about euthanasia exists in Germany, this means that there is no separate law, regarding euthanasia, in the penal code. Therefore, cases of euthanasia can only be dealt with through the existing laws for murder, manslaughter, death on demand and failure to render assistance.

German penal code (excerpt):

§ 211 (Mord)

1. Der Mörder wird mit lebenslanger Freiheitsstrafe bestraft.
2. Mörder ist, wer aus Mordlust, zur Befriedigung des Geschlechtstriebs, aus Habgier oder sonst aus niedrigen Beweggründen, heimtückisch oder grausam oder mit gemeingefährlichen Mitteln oder um eine andere Straftat zu ermöglichen oder zu verdecken, einen Menschen tötet.

§ 212 (Totschlag)

1. Wer einen Menschen tötet, ohne Mörder zu sein, wird als Totschläger mit Freiheitsstrafe nicht unter fünf Jahren bestraft.
2. In besonders schweren Fällen ist auf lebenslange Freiheitsstrafe zu erkennen.

§ 216 (Tötung auf Verlangen)

1. Ist jemand durch das ausdrückliche und ernstliche Verlangen des Getöteten zur Tötung bestimmt worden, so ist auf Freiheitsstrafe von sechs Monaten bis zu fünf Jahren zu erkennen.
2. Der Versuch ist strafbar.


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Euthanasia - An overview about forms, differences and difficulties
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
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Euthanasia, Presentation, Practice
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Anne-Kathrin Busè (Author), 2006, Euthanasia - An overview about forms, differences and difficulties, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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