Why Euthanasia is Unethical and Why We Should Name it as Such

The World Medical Association (WMA) was founded in 1947, in part to work for the highest possible standards of ethical behaviour and care among phy- sicians. This was considered particularly important after the gross ethical violations observed, by physicians themselves during the Second World War (1939-45) [2]. In 1987, several members of the WMA, who had had personal experience with these atrocities, were still alive. One of them, Dr. Andre Wynen, who was then Secretary General, and a Nazi camp survivor himself, was a strong advocate of the formulation of the Declaration ‘because protection of life was very important for him’ [3]. These sentiments were echoed in a 1989 essay by then WMA President Ram Ishay from the Israeli Medical Association [4]. Dr. Ishay explained that the WMA had not seen the need to pass such a Declaration earlier, because it had already adopted policies laying out what it considered to be appropriate and ethical end of life care. However, given new positions emerging within some countries, it felt the need to break this silence, and passed the present Declaration unanimously. This robust vehicle was subsequently reaffirmed in 2005 and again in 2015.

The authors of this article are three Canadians – two are practicing physicians and the other a severely disabled individual – who have combined their efforts, here, in the hope of preserving, once again, the deep and timely precautions WMA has maintained all these years. We ask that the full language of the original Declaration – explicitly stating that euthanasia “is unethical” – be preserved…

Objectively speaking, nothing has changed in the facts of euthanasia since 1945. Our current debate has not been caused by real changes in the internal logic of medical ethics and practice. It is actually the result of those same political, social, and economic factors, which civilized medicine has rejected time and again: the attraction of economic savings, feared by Wynen and described at first hand by Alexander; the terrible possibility that doctors and families might choose their own convenience over the survival of the patient, as voiced by Ishay; the horrible notion that certain lives are objectively less valuable. When death becomes the answer, we as human beings – as doctors – have failed in our duty to sustain trust and hope. Amid the larger pressures we have described, a free, autonomous decision about euthanasia becomes impossible. Patient choice becomes a cruel illusion.

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