Costa Rica Debates Passive Euthanasia for Epidemic Diseases

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    The recent H1N1 outbreak in Costa Rica has reopened passive euthanasia for discussion.

    The recent outbreak of H1N1 in Costa Rica has already claimed 27 lives to date. Now pro-euthanasia activists propose Project 19.440, the “Death with Dignity Act for Terminally Ill Patients” as a possible option for slowing the disease’s progression.

    Since 2014 when the bill was first proposed, the Death with Dignity Act has been modified slightly. For example, the “informed consent” clause was added to more explicitly explain the necessary dialogue between patient and doctor prior to beginning the process of passive euthanasia.

    What is Passive Euthanasia?

    Unlike active euthanasia which often utilizes a chemical agent to expedite a patient’s death, passive euthanasia occurs when medical professionals refrain from further treatment to prolong that patient’s life, allowing the disease to take its course. Colloquially, passive euthanasia is sometimes referred to “pulling the plug” with regards to patients who on mechanical life support.

    While some differentiate active and passive euthanasia as killing patient versus letting a patient die “naturally,” others argue no such difference exists. According to an article on BBC:

    [quote_box_center]Switching off a respirator requires someone to carry out the action of throwing the switch. If the patient dies as a result of the doctor switching off the respirator then although it’s certainly true that the patient dies from lung cancer (or whatever), it’s also true that the immediate cause of their death is the switching off of the breathing machine… [Thus] there is no real difference between passive and active euthanasia, since both have the same result: the death of the patient on humanitarian grounds.[/quote_box_center]

    Some ethicists even argue active euthanasia is the moral high road since it quickly and cleanly relieves the patient of further pain.

    Organizational Solidarity

    According to Antonio Álvarez Desanti, the Death with Dignity Bill already has the support of the Costa Rican College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Ombudsman Office and the University of Costa Rica’s Applied Ethics Group.

    Gabriela Arguedas of the Center for Research on Women’s Studies adds that the focus of the project above all is to develop a level of tolerance so that “death is seen as a natural process of life rather than a disgrace.”

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