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Euthanasia and assisted suicide

Euthanasia refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner, usually by lethal injection or withdrawing life-supporting treatment.  Assisted suicide differs to euthanasia as the doctor merely provides the means of committing suicide.  The debate about whether people should be allowed to determine when they die is a complex and long running one.  People with Parkinson’s have been among advocates for the ‘right to die’ although there is no data to indicate how many have taken this route.

Apart from religious objections, there are legal problems to be overcome in ensuring that legislation to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide will not lead to unnecessary deaths. At the time of writing (2011) euthanasia is legal only in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and assisted suicide in Albania and a few states in America.  Whilst assisted suicide is not legal in Switzerland, doctors who do assist are not prosecuted.

This issue is emotive and controversial and is likely to remain so. The challenge for society is to improve symptom control and address the total needs of those who may consider the possibility of euthanasia.

For more information on organisations involved in euthanasia and assisted suicide, as well as further debate on the issue, the following links may be helpful: