Reuters reported today that scientist, Stephen Hawking, supports assisted suicide. At the same time, the comments made by Hawking in the Reuters article create confusion as to what actually constitutes assisted suicide.
Hawking said he backed the right to die but only if the person involved had chosen that route.
He recalled how he was once put on a life support machine after suffering pneumonia and his wife was given the option of switching off the machine but this is not something he wanted.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition agrees that life support machines, in this case a ventilator, should only be turned off when a person wants it turned off, but turning off a ventilator does not constitute an act of assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Assisted suicide is to aid, encourage or counsel a person to commit suicide. Assisted suicide therefore is based on someone providing the means or encouraging or counseling a person to kill themselves.
Euthanasia is when one person causes the death of another person, whereby the death is directly and intentionally caused by the action or omission. Euthanasia is a form of homicide that is usually done by lethal injection.
Turning off a ventilator with the consent of a competent person may result in a natural death (the person does not always die) but when death occurs it is caused by the person’s medical condition.
Everyday doctors “turn off” ventilators with consent. These acts do not constitute euthanasia or assisted suicide.
As for Stephen Hawking, he should re-read the Reuters article to understand how his statement affects other people with disabilities.
The Reuters article refers to Hawking as “wheelchair bound.”
The language of the euthanasia/assisted suicide debate discriminates against people with disabilities and perpetuates negative concepts about living with disabilities. The fact is that Hawkings ideas about “safeguards” are abused in jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal. Safeguards that are abused cause death and yet no one is ever prosecuted for those deaths.
Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is unsafe and needs to be prohibited.
Instead of legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide we need to care for people to eliminate suffering and stop over-treating people who are actually dying and nearing death.