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The Long History of Euthanasia Will Leave You Truly Surprised

History of Euthanasia
In some countries, euthanasia is legal and a third person can assist suicide under certain conditions, while other countries forbid its practice.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
"I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel." ~ Hippocrates, Father of Modern Medicine (400 BC)
The term, 'Euthanasia' comes from the Greek words eu meaning God, and thanatos meaning death. Also known as mercy killing or assisted suicide, it is usually practiced on a terminally ill person. This practice of assisted killing may be legal or illegal, depending upon a country's jurisdiction. For example, it is legal in countries like Belgium, Norway, Sweden, and Albania, under the condition that the patient is suffering from chronic pain along with an incurable disease. In the United States, euthanasia is illegal, whatever may be the condition of the patient.

A Brief History of Euthanasia
Though Hippocrates mentioned and opposed euthanasia in the Hippocratic Oath (written around 400 BC), the ancient Greeks and the Romans opined that there was no need to preserve the life of a person who had no interest in living, or who thought life as a burden. In short, voluntary euthanasia was practiced and allowed in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
According to the English jurisdiction of the 1300s, suicide as well as helping people to kill themselves were considered as a criminal act. Mercy killing was also not supported by the ascendancy of Christianity (12th till 15th century). The first law against assisted killing, known as anti-euthanasia was passed in New York, in 1828. Euthanasia, like induced abortion, had been a major topic for debate even in those days.
In those times, euthanasia was divided into two types:
  • Voluntary
  • Involuntary
Voluntary type was done with the consent of the patient/person.
Involuntary type referred to killing a terminally ill person without his/her consent.
The year 1870 is very important in the timeline of euthanasia. In this year, Samuel Williams suggested the use of morphine and analgesic medications for assisting quick and painless death. This again brought the debate of mercy killing into the limelight in United States. Rather we can say, this proposal of advocating analgesics for intentionally ending a patient's life was a breakthrough in the history of euthanasia.
In 1885, i.e., exactly 15 years after Samuel Williams raised the proposal, the American Medical Association strongly denied the use of analgesic for euthanasia. By the start of 20th century, mercy killing and assisted killing already entered the minds of the public. In 1905, a bill for making it legal was circulated in Ohio, but it failed. A similar bill was introduced in the next year, which also failed.
In the 1940s, non-voluntary euthanasia was practiced for the first time by German physicians, to eliminate the diseased and disabled Germans in closed gas chambers. The main purpose of the program was to get rid of handicapped children and people with psychiatric problems. By 1945, it was estimated that 300,000 Germans had been killed. The Nazis used the same gas chambers to exterminate captured Russians, Gypsies, and Jews.
The 20th century marked the formation of several organizations for addressing the concerns regarding euthanasia. In 1935, the first group for legalization of euthanasia, called Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society (VELS), was founded by a group of doctors in London. In 1938, a similar organization, known as National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia (NSLE) came into existence.
The year 1980 represented the coming of World Federation of Right to Die Societies, an international federation for supporting voluntary mercy killing. In the same year, Hemlock Society led by Derek Humphry was founded in Los Angeles, United States. It is estimated that more than 60,000 members are registered under this society.

Till date, many cases of physician-assisted suicide have been fought in the court. In 1935, Harold Blazer was arrested for performing euthanasia on his daughter, who was suffering from cerebral spinal meningitis for more than thirty years. However, during the trial, he was acquitted of the charges. In 1986, doctor Joseph Hassman was charged guilty for administering a lethal dose of Demerol to his mother-in-law. He was fined and sentenced to two years imprisonment for the act.
In 1999, euthanasia became a public issue, with the imprisonment of Dr. Jack Kevorkian for conducting voluntary euthanasia on Thomas Youk (52), who was in the final stage of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder, and he served eight years in prison (from 1999 to 2007). It was claimed that he had exercised euthanasia for at least 130 other patients (in this case, patients took lethal injections themselves).
The debate on euthanasia and assisting suicide is still going on, and is expected to continue in the coming years. There are both pros and cons of euthanasia and whether to stand for or against mercy killing depends on the ideology and understanding of each individual. In a survey, approximately 60 - 80 percent people in the western countries favor physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.