Limits on the Right of Autonomy in Respect of End of Life DecisionMaking
End of life decision making is one of the most, if not the most, controversial areas inmedical law. For decades it has vexed the courts, legislators and academics alike, aseach has tried to disentangle the law, from ethics and morality, in an effort to establishconcrete principles regarding such decisions. This essay will address three key aspectsof end of life decision-making, namely, euthanasia, assisted suicide and advancedirectives.Euthanasia is seen as deliberately ending a person’s life with the general motivationof ending pain and suffering. The final step in euthanasia is taken by a third party,while assisted suicide, on the other hand, merely involves third party assistance. Bothare unlawful in most European jurisdictions, including Ireland and the UnitedKingdom, thereby, making it legally impossible to consent to your own death. Masonand McCall Smith argue, however, that since the right to self-determination has now justified the legalisation of suicide, “[t]he door is thereby opened for consideringeuthanasia as a morally acceptable practice.”
In deciding whether limits on a person’sright to autonomy are justified, it is necessary to balance the interests of the State in preserving the sanctity of life against the right of an individual to self-determination.While increasingly, the rights of the patient are winning out, it seems that society isstill reluctant to push the boundaries and accept euthanasia as a lawful act.
Mason & McCall Smith,
Law and Medical Ethics,
(London, Dublin,Edinburgh: Butterworths, 1994), pp. 314.