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.