Euthanasia is there a case?

Damian Luiz Clarke


Executive Summary
Traditional Abrahamic religious teaching states that it is wrong to kill the innocent. However the advances in medical care have created new situations. The principle of double effect and the distinction between ordinary and extra-ordinary therapies have allowed religious ethicists a degree of latitude when it comes to thinking about euthanasia. Secular ethicists have also been challenged by these developments and there are various opinions ranging from conservative to radical amongst these writers. In essence the principle of autonomy tends to trump all other issues and this would mean that an autonomous decision to die by refusing treatment is to be respected. An autonomous request to be actively killed is more controversial but there seems to be growing legal and ethical support for this under tightly controlled circumstances. Apart from theological objections, opponents of euthanasia raise practical concerns such as the slippery slope argument and the effect of active euthanasia on the doctor patient relationship. When it comes to decision making in those patients who cannot function autonomously such as neonates, patients in intensive care and patients in a persistent vegetative state the issue is clouded. Health professionals must act in the patient’s best interests but what these are may be difficult to define. In many cases there is no pre-existing decision of the patient that can be used as a basis for end of life decision making. Health care providers have to make use of surrogates to help reach a decision and this is controversial.

Author's affiliations

Damian Luiz Clarke, UKZN

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2009;2(1):23.

Article History

Date submitted: 2008-10-17
Date published: 2009-06-15

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