Leading academics endorse euthanasia for the ‘weary in spirit’

Several academics are arguing for euthanasia for those 'weary of life'. Recent articles in the Journal of Medical Ethics push for law reform to be consistent in our ethical reasoning.

The authors - including bioethicists Julian Savulescu and Jukka Varelius - suggest that euthanasia is ultimately justified by existential suffering - a despair in life - and not some kind of physical illness. As existential suffering can come in many forms, be it a 'diagnosable' illness or non-medical despair, it should be permitted for those who, though not ill, have lost hope and have no prospect of regaining meaning in their lives.

Varelius - who does not go as far as Savulescu in calling for new legislation - identifies existential suffering as the key factor in requests for euthanasia. He considers the example of a distressed car accident victim:

"[We need to ask] whether the suffering of this particular patient is severe enough to make his life not worth living and whether there is significant hope that he after all could recover to live at least a tolerable life. Addressing these questions involves considering existential issues relating to the value of the kind of life this patient can live and the question of what degree of hope ought to be deemed significant enough."

Varelius suggests that questions of the worth, meaning and value of life are the key considerations when deciding whether to grant euthanasia. He proposes that the presence of medical illness may not be as important a consideration as we once thought it was.

In his comment on a recent BioEdge article on euthanasia in prisons, Philip Nitschke used a similar notion to argue for the inmates right to die:

"If we accept existential suffering as a valid criteria, trying to distinguish the ‘unbearable suffering’ from illness and the ‘unbearable suffering’ of incarceration is meaningless - something the resourceful and compassionate Belgium laws acknowledge."

This article is published by Xavier Symons and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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