Random Thoughts 89

Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. It comes from a Greek word that means “good death” which is similar to the Japanese translation which is 安楽死. Laws regarding it differ from country to country. In Japan it is illegal. In the Netherlands and Belgium it is called “termination of life by a doctor at the request of a patient”.


It has a long history that can be traced back to Rome and Greece where it was practiced. Hemlock was generally used. Socrates, Plato, and Seneca the Elder all supported it while Hippocrates appears to have been against it. Hippocrates was a Greek physician who lived between 460 and 370 BC. He is often referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine”. He is credited for creating the Hippocratic Oath[1], an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians. There are different interpretations of it, foremost being the phrase “First do no harm”. How that is interpreted determines whether euthanasia is considered to be harmful or helpful.


Recently there was a story in the news about a woman who had been suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)[2]. About half of the people affected develop at least mild difficulties with thinking and behavior and most people experience pain. Most eventually lose the ability to walk, use their hands, speak, swallow, and breathe which inevitably leads to death. In her youth this woman had been active physically but after developing ALS she steadily became weaker. She wanted to end her suffering and about a year before her death she contacted to doctors who agreed to help her end her own life. When this fact became known, the two doctors were arrested for murder.


When my wife was diagnosed as being terminally ill with cancer, we were able to get her into a hospice. Cancer, as you may know, is also painful and morphine[3] is administered to ease the pain. The amount administered is gradually increased as the disease progresses and in the end the patient’s heart stops beating. Such treatment in itself is indeed a form of euthanasia, but one sanctioned by the State.


For me, therefore, I find Japan’s law against euthanasia as defined in the Dutch and Belgian view as being a contradiction to actual practice and thus hypocritical[4]. Accordingly, I think the arrest of the two doctors who alleviated the suffering of that woman who had ALD to be a travesty of justice[5].

[1] ヒポクラテスの誓い [2] 筋萎縮性側索硬化症 [3] モルヒネ [4] 偽善的 [5] 正義の奇行

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