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Moving from Voluntary Euthanasia to Non-Voluntary Euthanasia: Equality and Compassion

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The recent Dutch law legalising active voluntary euthanasia will reignite the euthanasia debate. An illuminating method for evaluating the moral status of a practice is to follow the implications of the practice to its logical conclusion. The argument for compassion is one of the central arguments in favour of voluntary active euthanasia. This argument applies perhaps even more forcefully in relation to incompetent patients. If active voluntary euthanasia is legalised, arguments based on compassion and equality will be directed towards legalising active non-voluntary euthanasia in order to make accelerated termination of death available also to the incompetent. The removal of discrimination against the incompetent has the potential to become as potent a catch-cry as the right to die. However, the legalisation of non-voluntary euthanasia is undesirable. A review of the relevant authorities reveals that there is no coherent and workable “best interests” test which can be invoked to decide whether an incompetent patient is better off dead. This provides a strong reason for not stepping onto the slippery path of permitting active voluntary euthanasia.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Deakin University, School of Law, Burwood, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 01 September 2004

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