Part of the plan for population control, according to Dr Day, was to encourage the old who no longer had a use within society to take their own lives.
Euthanasia has been a controversial subject, with campaign groups advocating the right to take one’s life, and other groups claiming that it is immoral.
Laws vary greatly around the world, as do definitions of euthanasia.
In general, euthanasia is divided into two main categories – active and passive.
Active euthanasia is where someone makes definite and positive plans to take their own life, with or without the assistance of another person. For example, someone may make plans to receive a lethal compound.
Passive euthanasia is where a person may express a wish not to be given life support treatment if their condition deteriorates, or may request that they are not given liquid or sustenance when their condition becomes terminal.
In some countries euthanasia is legislated, either allowing or disallowing ‘assisted suicide’. Where euthanasia is legislated against, the penalties for someone assisting another to commit suicide are reduced in certain circumstances.
Australia – legal since 1997, Belgium – legal since 2001, Canada – A complicated legal situation and conditions vary from province to province, Columbia – legal for the ‘terminally ill’ and a person will not be prosecuted for assisting a person who is terminally ill provided the patient has given clear consent, India – Passive euthanasia has been legal since 2011, while active euthanasia remains illegal, Ireland – illegal, Japan – A complex legal situation. There has been no specific legislation allowing or disallowing any form of euthanasia, Luxembourg – legal since 2008, Mexico – illegal, Netherlands – legal since 2002, New Zealand – Illegal, Norway – illegal, Switzerland – legal, Turkey – illegal, United Kingdom – illegal, United States – illegal in most states.
In 2013, France’s medical ethic council ruled that assisted death could be permitted where the patient makes ‘persistent, lucid, and repeated requests’ to end their life, and where they are ‘suffering from an ailment for which the treatment has become ineffective’.
The situation is complicated further by legislation and professional practices imposed on physicians. In some countries, physicians are able to decide whether life support is to continue or not, in others they can only come to the decision with the consent of the patient’s relatives, and in others they cannot withdraw life support.
Where euthanasia is legal, there can be very strict restrictions on when and how active or passive euthanasia can occur.
The first references to euthanasia can be traced back to Roman times when Roman historian, Suetonius described the death of Augustus Caesar.
In more recent historical accounts, the with-holding of treatment has been used by physicians in varying circumstances as a passive form of allowing someone who is suffering to die naturally.
The debate on euthanasia became a hot topic in 1984 when the Netherlands Supreme Court approved physician assisted voluntary euthanasia with strict criteria. Many countries, including the USA and UK, reviewed the legal framework of euthanasia and the penalties for those who assisted suicide.
Pro and anti groups became more active in lobbying their governments and producing propaganda material to support their particular perspectives. Churches and religious leaders became involved in the debate, often leading to heated debates in the media.
In 2002 the Netherlands reviewed their legislation after criticism that allowing euthanasia was being abused by those who would benefit from a person’s death.
The new legislation set out very strict criteria under which euthanasia may take place, including the ability of the patient to consent, the person’s medical condition, the medical procedures which may be used, and the requirement for a physician to be present to supervise the demise of the patient.
There are some campaign groups that want people to have the right to die even though they may not be suffering from a terminal condition. For example, in Holland there is a movement that wants the right to die for every citizen over the age of 70 for any reason.
There have been several high-profile legal cases in the UK where the applicants have challenged the illegality of euthanasia and attempted to assert their right to die.
Moors murderer Ian Brady has attempted to assert a right to die by starving himself to death. At the current time, Brady is classed as a ‘patient’ in a secure hospital where staff have a duty to keep him alive through force feeding. Brady wants to be transferred to a normal prison where the legal framework is different and where force-feeding would have to be authorised through a complex process.
Organisations such as ‘Dignity in Dying’ campaign for the right to have the choice over where, when, and the method by which someone may die, and for high quality end-of-life information and care to be available.
At the other end of the spectrum, organisations such as ‘Care Not Killing’ promote better palliative care and a strengthening of legislation which prevents euthanasia.
Although the world-wide legal framework for euthanasia is varied, and there are organisations and lobbies for both sides of the ‘for and against’ argument, public awareness of the right to die has become significantly increased since the 1980s.
As yet, we have not seen the ‘demise pill’ referred to by Dr Day, and no age limit has been set as a time when people should expect to die – which is another of Dr Day’s statements. But (as we wrote earlier) we have seen a significant rise in the number of people who support the eugenics movement in powerful and high-profile positions.