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Friday, 9 January 2015


The first apparent usage of the term "euthanasia" belongs to the historian Suetonius who described how the Emperor Augustus, "dying quickly and without suffering in the arms of his wife, Livia, experienced the 'euthanasia' he had wished for."

Euthanasia was practiced in Ancient Greece and Rome. Senior citizens on the island of Kea, for instance, were expected to drink deadly hemlock on their 60th birthday.

Ancient Rome was the first jurisdiction where euthanasia was allowed. Citizens could apply to the Senate and get free poison.

Euthanasia was strongly opposed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Dominican philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)  opposed both and argued that the practice of euthanasia contradicted our natural human instincts of survival.

In 1870 English schoolteacher Samuel Williams' proposal was to use chloroform to deliberately hasten the death of terminally ill patients, initiated the contemporary euthanasia debate.

Adolf Hitler signed an order on September 1, 1939 to begin the systematic euthanasia of mentally ill and disabled people. He ordered the cessation of Nazi Germany's T4 euthanasia program due to protests on August 24, 1941, although killings continued for the remainder of the war.

Nazi poster (from around 1938)  By German government, Wikipedia

Wilhelm Stuckart was responsible for the Nazi regime’s program of euthanasia for “deformed newborns.” Two years after creating the laws, his own son born with Down syndrome became one of their victims.

The "Doctor of Death", Jack Kevorkian, participated in his first assisted suicide on April 16, 1990.  His patient was Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman diagnosed in 1989 with Alzheimer's disease. According to his lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian assisted in the deaths of 130 terminally ill people between 1990 and 1998.

In 1999, Kevorkian was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence.

The Terri Schiavo case was a legal struggle involving prolonged life support in the United States that lasted from 1990 to 2005. It concerned Terri Schiavo, an American woman who suffered brain damage. On February 25, 2005, a Florida judge ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. The decision fueled a worldwide debate on euthanasia.

Terri Schiavo with her mother, in 2001. Fair use, Wikipedia Commons

Assisted suicide in Switzerland is absolutely legal  – you don't need a doctor present, or even have to be Swiss.

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