Assisted dying – from ‘Should we do it?’ to ‘Who should do it?’

In the past, intentionally hastening the death of any person was always a crime, no matter the circumstances. But public attitudes have been changing. Assisting a person who has explicitly asked to die is increasingly being seen as a justifiable action, especially in the context of a terminal illness. This is a consistent finding of opinion polls in westernized countries.

Still, legislative bodies are cautious when considering possible changes to the law. So far only the Netherlands, Belgium, and the state of Oregon in the US have put explicit legislation into practice. But serious political discussions on similar legal changes are taking place in many other countries, including the UK, South Africa and Australia.

As adamant opposition to the legal regulation of assisted dying weakens, so the issues of practical applicability become more important. Of course there is the question of who qualifies for an assisted death. Should it be only the terminally ill? Should, for instance, the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease qualify? Or even any serious and incurable illness or disability? And what about people whose reason for wanting to die is not related to their medical condition at all?

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