Arguments for and against euthanasia

Key facts about and non-religious attitudes to euthanasiaBSA, 2010; THE LANCET, 2010; 'DEMOS', 2011

There are powerful arguments for and against euthanasia.

People with different beliefs may agree with many of these arguments. For example, an atheist may recognise that there are dangers in allowing euthanasia (the slippery slope argument). However, they might also feel that an individual's right to direct their own life outweighs other good arguments.

Many religious believers are likely to have great sympathy with arguments that a person should not have to live in agony. Despite this, the idea for them that life is sacred may outweigh other arguments, however good.

Arguments for euthanasia

Some arguments in favour of euthanasia include:

  • Human beings should have the right to be able to decide when and how they die (self-determination).
  • Euthanasia enables a person to die with dignity and in control of their situation.
  • Death is a private matter and the state should not interfere with the individual's right to die.
  • It is expensive to keep people alive when there is no cure for their illness. Euthanasia would release precious resources to treat people who could live.
  • Family and friends would be spared the pain of seeing their loved one suffer a long-drawn-out death.
  • Society permits animals to be put down as an act of kindness when they are suffering, the same treatment should be available to humans.

Arguments against euthanasia

Some non-religious arguments against euthanasia include:

  • Euthanasia would weaken society's respect for the value and importance of human life.
  • Proper palliative care is available which reduces or removes the need for people to be in pain.
  • It would lead to worse care for the terminally ill.
  • It would put too much power in the hands of doctors, and damage the trust between patient and doctor.
  • Some people may feel pressured to request euthanasia by family, friends or doctors when it isn't what they really want.
  • It would undermine the commitment of doctors and nurses to save lives.
  • It would discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill.
  • Some people unexpectedly recover.
  • Some people may change their mind about euthanasia and be unable to tell anyone.
  • Voluntary euthanasia could be the first step on a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia, where those who are undesirable or seen as a problem could be killed.