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Carleton University
LAWS 3305

The History of Euthanasia A Journey to legalizationChris McNaughtLaws 3305Many legal issues discussed in society have stemmed from far back in history and been altered throughout their journey towards present day Many contributions to our current legal system have been derived from eras as prehistoric as ancient Greece and Rome prior to the development of Christianity Though no formal legal system was being implicated in those times there were still certain moral codes that were understood throughout the community For example murder was still found to be unethical and wrong but not criminal a morale that has been projected on to the criminal laws that govern todays countries However some aspects of murder such as euthanasia have not been as clearly defined as right or wrong Euthanasia defined as mercy killing is a word derived from two Latin roots thanatos meaning death and eu meaning good There are two basic types of euthanasia and three subcategories that relate to the reason for someone putting forth this request Active euthanasia is when something is given to the body to accelerate death while passive euthanasia occurs when essentially nothing is being done to the patient letting nature take its course by removing or refusing life supporting technologies The three subcategories are voluntarywhere the patient consents to being euthanized nonvoluntarythe patient is incapable of making the decision so a decision is made for them and involuntary euthanasiaperformed against the wishes of a competent individual Due to the vast composition it holds when discussing mercy killing notable changes surface both on sociological views and legal perspectives These changes can be found within the differentiating criminal legislation that governs countries or states Through its international historiography in both a sociological and legalistic context this paper will follow the multitude of transitions undergone by euthanasia and reveal evidence suggesting an alteration to our criminal code is essential for maintaining the strength and cohesiveness of the Canadian criminal justice systemEuthanasia in the WorldIn Greece and Rome before Christ physicians followed guidelines instituted by the Hippocratic Oath instructing them to practice medicine ethically and honestly I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked nor suggest any such counsel Hippocrates However many attitudes surrounding circumstances like euthanasia infanticide and abortion tended to be tolerant of such actions The view taken by physicians in this time period was that if patients asked to be killed then that request would be carried out in accordance with their wishes Although the oath stated it unethical to administer a deadly dosage of drugs to patients physicians would often oppose it to fulfill their patients request for active euthanasia Many Greeks and Romans supported active euthanasia as opposed to prolonged agony and many physicians gave their patients the poison they asked for Manning 6 This request was usually made for the patients to be able to die with dignity as opposed to having a slow painful death a request popular enough that in fact in classical Athens the city magistrates kept a supply of poison for anyone who wished to die Manning 7 As Christ came to life a new light was shone on the value of life and this refreshing perspective reformed the sociological ideals surrounding euthanasia and similar conceptsReligion became an influential criterion by which everything became dependent on as new beliefs and values were being spoon fed to society and these ideals spread like wildfire Christianity held life as sacred as a gift or trust of God something that should not be taken away unnaturally by any circumstances thus developing a directly opposite perspective to the ancient belief of euthanasia Any form of killing albeit by suicide euthanasia or abortion was all considered as a disgrace to God and to family This quickly lead to the descent of the practice of euthanasia straight through the medieval times a descent that had begun since the fall of Rome The medieval ethos was distinctly uncongenial to any kind of selfmurder Dowbiggin 3 This reaffirmed the beliefs of the Hippocratic Oath and the precedent of honest and ethical practice was redefined The doctrine of suicide opposing Gods will of human responsibilities prevailed from the Middle Ages straight through to the Renaissance where a few scholars decided to critique the authority and teachings of churches regarding ethical matters but there was still no significant resurgence of euthanasia discussion during that time Manning 10 Sir Thomas More went insofar to allow euthanasia provided that the patients illness was incurable and caused anguish and that The Revolutionary War brought a change for many states in America as the decriminalized suicide however this did not change their beliefs on euthanasia nor did they feel it any more right to commit such an actBy the 19th century euthanasia had made a minor resurfacing into legal debate though most discussions were still surrounding the fact that it should be illegal Suggested by Commonwealth v Bowen 1816 Now if the murder of ones self is felony the accessory is equally guilty as if he had aided and abetted the murder Justice Parker This was a case where one prisoner had convinced another to kill himself because he was on death row and would die anyways therefore he may as well get it over with However as defined by Justice Parker persuading someone into taking their own life despite imminent death is in fact criminal and in fact murder This commonlaw ideology was similarly advised by Z Swift as a wellestablished commonlaw view if one counsels another to commit suicide and the other by reason of the advice kills himself the advisor is guilty of murder as principal 1823 1828 marked the first time that a statute was created explicitly outlawing assisted suicide which was enacted in New York The act specifically referred to ending another persons life by means of a weapon or drug This statute was followed in many states and by the end of the 19th century most states had
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