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History of Euthanasia The Hippocratic Oath "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel" … The Hippocratic Oath by the "Father of Medicine, Greek physician Hippocrates, about 400 B.C. The Hippocratic Oath (c400 BC) I SWEAR by Apollo the physician and AEsculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation -- to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgement, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons labouring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further, from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times. But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot. Source: "Harvard Classics Volume 38" Copyright 1910 by P.F. Collier and Son. The bold print is added by our website. Bold print added. 14th through 20th Century English Common Law "More specifically, for over 700 years, the Anglo American common law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and assisting suicide." Excerpt from the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1997 Washington v. Glucksberg - opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. 19th Century United States That suicide remained a grievous, though nonfelonious, wrong is confirmed by the fact that colonial and early state legislatures and courts did not retreat from prohibiting assisting suicide. Swift, in his early 19th century treatise on the laws of Connecticut, stated that "[i]f one counsels another to commit suicide, and the other by reason of the advice kills himself, the advisor is guilty of murder as principal." 2 Z. Swift, A Digest of the Laws of the State of Connecticut 270 (1823). This was the well established common law view, see In re Joseph G., 34 Cal. 3d 429, 434-435, 667 P. 2d 1176, 1179 (1983); Commonwealth v. Mink, 123 Mass. 422, 428 (1877) ("`Now if the murder of one's self is felony, the accessory is equally guilty as if he had aided and abetted in the murder'") (quoting Chief Justice Parker's charge to the jury in Commonwealth v. Bowen, 13 Mass. 356 (1816)), as was the similar principle that the consent of a homicide victim is "wholly immaterial to the guilt of the person who cause[d] [his death]," 3 J. Stephen, A History of the Criminal Law of England 16 (1883); see 1 F. Wharton, Criminal Law §§451-452 (9th ed. 1885); Martin v. Commonwealth, 184 Va. 1009, 1018-1019, 37 S. E. 2d 43, 47 (1946) (" `The right to life and to personal security is not only sacred in the estimation of the common law, but it is inalienable' "). And the prohibitions against assisting suicide never contained exceptions for those who were near death. Rather, "[t]he life of those to whom life ha[d] become a burden--of those who [were] hopelessly diseased or fatally wounded--nay, even the lives of criminals condemned to death, [were] under the protection of law, equally as the lives of those who [were] in the full tide of life's enjoyment, and anxious to continue to live." Blackburn v. State, 23 Ohio St. 146, 163 (1872); see Bowen, supra, at 360 (prisoner who persuaded another to commit suicide could be tried for murder, even though victim was scheduled shortly to be executed). Excerpt from the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1997 Washington v. Glucksberg opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Color print added. Earliest American Statute Explicitly to Outlaw Assisting Suicide (1828) The earliest American statute explicitly to outlaw assisting suicide was enacted in New York in 1828, Act of Dec. 10, 1828, ch. 20, §4, 1828 N. Y. Laws 19 (codified at 2 N. Y. Rev. Stat. pt. 4, ch. 1, tit. 2, art. 1, §7, p. 661 (1829)), and many of the new States and Territories followed New York's example. Marzen 73-74. Between 1857 and 1865, a New York commission led by Dudley Field drafted a criminal code that prohibited "aiding" a suicide and, specifically, "furnish[ing] another person with any deadly weapon or poisonous drug, knowing that such person intends to use such weapon or drug in taking his own life." Id., at 76-77. Excerpt is from the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1997 Washington v. Glucksberg - opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. The Book Permitting the Destruction of Life not Worthy of Life Published (1920) In this book, authors Alfred Hoche, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Freiburg, and Karl Binding, a professor of law from the University of Leipzig, argued that patients who ask for "death assistance" should, under very carefully controlled conditions, be able to obtain it from a physician. This book helped support involuntary euthanasia by Nazi Germany. The Euthanasia Society of England (1935) In 1935 the Euthanasia Society of England was formed to promote euthanasia. Nazi Germany (1939) "In October of 1939 amid the turmoil of the outbreak of war Hitler ordered widespread "mercy killing" of the sick and disabled. Code named "Aktion T 4," the Nazi euthanasia program to eliminate "life unworthy of life" at first focused on newborns and very young children. Midwives and doctors were required to register children up to age three who showed symptoms of mental retardation, physical deformity, or other symptoms included on a questionnaire from the Reich Health Ministry." "The Nazi euthanasia program quickly expanded to include older disabled children and adults. Hitler's decree of October, 1939, typed on his personal stationery and back dated to Sept. 1, enlarged 'the authority of certain physicians to be designated by name in such manner that persons who, according to human judgment, are incurable can, upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness, be accorded a mercy death.'" From "The History Place" website: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/euthanasia.htm Australia's Northern Territory Euthanasia Bill (1995) Australia's Northern Territory’s euthanasia bill went into effect in 1996 and was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997. 20th Century United States Though deeply rooted, the States' assisted suicide bans have in recent years been reexamined and, generally, reaffirmed. Because of advances in medicine and technology, Americans today are increasingly likely to die in institutions, from chronic illnesses. President's Comm'n for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Deciding to Forego Life Sustaining Treatment 16-18 (1983). Public concern and democratic action are therefore sharply focused on how best to protect dignity and independence at the end of life, with the result that there have been many significant changes in state laws and in the attitudes these laws reflect. Many States, for example, now permit "living wills," surrogate health care decisionmaking, and the withdrawal or refusal of life sustaining medical treatment. See Vacco v. Quill, post, at 9-11; 79 F. 3d, at 818-820; People v. Kevorkian, 447 Mich. 436, 478-480, and nn. 53-56, 527 N. W. 2d 714, 731732, and nn. 53-56 (1994). At the same time, however, voters and legislators continue for the most part to reaffirm their States' prohibitions on assisting suicide. Excerpt is from the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1997 Washington v. Glucksberg - opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Oregon Assisted Suicide (1998) The U.S. state of Oregon legalizes assisted suicide in 1998. It is the only US state to do so. Kevorkian Sentenced to Prison (1999) In 1999, pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to a 10-25 year prison term for giving a lethal injection to Thomas Youk whose death was shown on the 60 Minutes television program. Netherlands Legalizes Euthanasia (2000) In 2000, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. Belgium Legalizes Euthanasia (2002) In 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia.
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