What are Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia?

Assisted suicide is a broad term used to describe a suicide effected with the assistance of another person. Physician-assisted suicide (also known as Medical aid in dying) refers to a physician prescribing lethal medication to a patient to self-administer.

Euthanasia is when a medical practitioner takes a deliberate action with the express intention of ending a human life to relieve pain or suffering, like giving a patient a lethal injection. Translated from the Greek, euthanasia literally means “good death”.

History of Assisted Death

Debates about euthanasia and assisted suicide date back to ancient Greece and Rome. Many ancient Greeks and Romans held no conviction that human life was inherently valuable, and therefore tolerated infanticide, active euthanasia, abortion, and suicide. The Hippocratic Oath prohibited doctors from prescribing or administering deadly drugs even if the patient requested them. Unfortunately, few Greek and Roman physicians followed this oath faithfully, and administered deadly poison to patients upon their request.

The entrance of Christianity into the backdrop of Greco-Roman society and culture reinforced the Hippocratic Oath, and spread novel ideas about the value of human life being made in God’s image. Throughout the Middle Ages, both Jews and Christians strongly opposed euthanasia and suicide, viewing the practices as affronts to God’s gift of life. In the 17th century, the common law of the American colonies prohibited suicide and assisted suicide as “most unnatural”.

In the 1870s, a man named Samuel Williams (a non-physician) began to publicly advocate for the use of morphine and other drugs to euthanize patients. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) attacked his proposal as an “attempt to make the physician don the robes of an executioner”. Throughout the 1930s, public support for euthanasia increased as Americans faced the Great Depression, and in 1935, the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society (VELS) was founded in England, followed by the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia (NSLE) in the U.S. in 1938. The involuntary euthanasia practiced by the Nazis during WWII in the 1940s began to change the public perception of euthanasia in the United States, though the debate continued to rage on for decades in America and around the globe.

By 1977, 8 U.S. states had “Right to Die” bills and by the 1990s, more than half of Americans supported physician-assisted suicide. In the 1997 Supreme Court Case, Washington v. Glucksberg, the Supreme Court decided that there is no constitutional “right to die”, and that the decision belongs to each individual state. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia in 2001, and from there, numerous states and countries have passed pro-euthanasia or pro-assisted suicide legislation as the issue has become increasingly less stigmatized.

This information was sourced from Britannica’s procon.org. Read through Britannica’s full historical timeline of assisted death.

Indiana Law

Current Indiana law does not allow doctors or caretakers to play an active role in a patient’s death (i.e. active euthanasia). But, if the patient wishes, “life-prolonging treatment” may be withheld (passive euthanasia). Assisting suicide in Indiana is considered a Class B felony.

Code Section 16-36-1-13, 16-36-4-19
Euthanasia Condoned in Statutes? Euthanasia is not condoned or authorized by Indiana law. This chapter does not authorize euthanasia or any affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life other than to permit the natural process of dying, including the withholding or withdrawing of life prolonging procedures under this chapter.

Earlier this year, Indiana legislators considered the Indiana End of Life Options Act (HB 1011). If passed, terminally ill patients who met certain requirements would have been able to legally request life-ending medication. Read through the bill here. Thankfully, the bill did not pass during the legislative session.

United States Euthanasia Law

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that citizens do not have a constitutional “right to die” by physician-assisted suicide. Most laws regarding this issue vary state to state, similar to abortion laws after the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide US legality map

Learn more about the Supreme Court decision (Washington v. Glucksberg) here.

As of August 2023, assisted suicide is legal is 11 U.S. states. Learn which U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

Global Euthanasia Laws

In 2024, euthanasia is legal in 10 countries and assisted suicide is legal in 11 countries. Learn which countries have legalized euthanasia and or assisted suicide.

RTL of NCI Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Position

Right to Life of North Central Indiana believes that the devaluing of human life at any stage will eventually affect all human beings. If a society is willing to kill the most vulnerable, the unborn, then the rest of us will eventually be at risk. The promotion of assisted suicide and euthanasia is becoming more prevalent. In the beginning, assisted suicide was promoted with the excuse that a person who will die should be able to end their life on their terms. Now, people are being pressured to accept assisted suicide because of their inability to perform some daily activities or because they aren’t getting the medical care they need. RTL of NCI believes that assisted suicide or euthanasia is never a necessary option if a person’s emotional, psychological, or physical needs are being met.

Learn More!

Euthanasia is a complex topic with many avenues for study and research. Read educational materials on assisted suicide and euthanasia to learn more.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide References

Euthanasia
Physician-Assisted Suicide Disregards The Dignity Of Human Life
Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Patient Rights
A Designed Death – Where & When The World Allows
Euthanasia: a regional perspective
Euthanasia Historical Timeline
What is Euthanasia – Center for Health Ethics

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What are Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

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