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Just How Unlawful is “Euthanasia”?

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Those who campaign for law reform to permit “euthanasia” may seek different things and at least some of what they seek may already be permissible under the criminal law of England and Wales. In this paper I examine one means whereby the criminal law delivers outcomes acceptable to the euthanasia lobby, that is the curious notion of “causation” deployed by the law, which adds a value override to the more usual notion of factual causation such that, for example, if medical treatment falls within the acceptable range as normal and proper, the pre–existing injury or illness is treated as exclusively the cause of death and the doctor escapes criminal liability, even where the medical treatment will shorten life to the certain knowledge, possibly even the wish, of the doctor. Thus the law may already be delivering a range of outcomes — euthanasia in a weak sense — acceptable to the euthanasia lobby. If so, it achieves this by stealth. That is inappropriate to the doctor–patient relationship, which is one of trust. So there is a strong case for greater transparency. Moreover, there are limits to the acceptable outcomes which an unreformed criminal law can deliver and in a range of cases the criminal law condemns the doctor to impotence and the patient to a prolonged, miserable and undignified death. So there is also a case for going beyond the current law and legalising euthanasia in a strong sense.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Oriel College, Oxford, UK

Publication date: 2002-12-01

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