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The Euthanasia Argument

The Euthanasia Argument

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

According to, the definition of euthanasia is “the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. (The key word here is ‘intentional.’ If death is not intended, it is not an act of euthanasia.)” This implies that the person who is the object of euthanasia may not have been the one who made the ultimate decision.

For example, nurses working in palliative and hospice care see many patients who are on their deathbed, with no hope of recovery; these nurses witness the patients’ suffering as the body declines before succumbing to death.

As the patient deteriorates, so do the family friends, who must slowly watch their loved one fade away. Families get frustrated and are unable to understand why the patient must suffer when it seems easier to let them die in peace.

In nursing school, nurses are taught that their primary duty is to help the patient by providing life-saving or life-lengthening treatments and care. Or in older patients, nurses provide hospice care, helping the patient live comfortably to the last. Nurses are never told that it’s okay to actively take a person’s life; it’s wrong and illegal according to our society.

But what does a nurse say when the patient is begging to be allowed to die? What does she say when the family is angry and hurting, knowing that they would be able to help a cat or a dog to “the other side,” yet their loved one is forced to live with unmanageable pain and suffering?

It’s not unusual for a family member to ask for the medical staff to give one shot too many or to give medication that will help stop breathing. It’s for the nurse and the doctor to explain that this can’t be done; they will lose their license and possibly face criminal charges.

In 1996, a study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, called “The role of critical care nurses in euthanasia and assisted suicide.” The study authors found that of the 852 nurses who worked in intensive care units, “141 (17%) reported that they had received requests from patients or family members to perform euthanasia or assist in suicide; 129 (16% of those for whom data were available) reported that they had engaged in euthanasia; and an additional 36 (4%) reported that they had hastened a patient’s death by only pretending to provide life-sustaining treatment ordered by a physician.”

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