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By Keith W. Munday

The word euthanasia comes from the Greek language en thanatos which means a happy or gentle death. In modern terms we understand it to mean the taking of (or omission of) a deliberate act causing the death of a person who is suffering from a very painful illness or disability. It is done at their request.

A form of euthanasia was practised in pre-Christian times when babies were exposed and left to die. It was a form of population control. Old people were likewise abandoned.

The writer visited a former concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria, to read up some of its history. During its existence in the 1930/40s some 128,000 died there; many through so-called euthanasia. The inmates had to work in the local quarry, and the work was so strenuous and the rations so meagre they would constantly fall sick.They were given three days to recover, otherwise euthanasia was administered by means of an injection of potassium cyanide directly into the heart.

These extreme cases of compulsory euthanasia really amounted to murder, and to be fair to those who advocate euthanasia today we accept that their motives are those of compassion even if we cannot agree with them. Some well-known figures in the past have made claims for an easy death such as Seneca, a Stoic philosopher, Pliny the younger (governor of the Roman province of Bithynia) and in later times by Francis Bacon.

In 1935 the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society was formed, and in the following year a bill was presented to the House of Lords promoting the Society's aims, but it was refused a second reading. Further attempts to get something on to the Statue Book have so far been unsuccessful.

Index to the Topic
A Definition
A Biblical Perspective
The Big Debate
The Dangers
Christian Responsibility 

Other Material
1. Ethics Essay: Euthanasia; Should we/Shouldn't we?

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