Definition, Meaning and Types of Euthanasia - Right to life


Definition, Meaning and Types of Euthanasia - Right to life

In the last post, you learned the meaning of Right to life as a constitutional provision and derogation therefrom. Furthermore, there is a growing opinion that there are many other ways by which there can be derogation of right to life outside the ambit of the Constitutional provisions. It has been suggested that technological development should also impact on our Law.

This article is devoted to examining the debate about the necessity of Euthanasia as derogation from right to life.

In this article, you should be able to state the argument for and against the existence of Law in society, understand what euthanasia is and enable students to take position as to the desirability or otherwise of right to die.


Definition of Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the act and practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary Medical treatment.


Meaning of Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependant human being for his or her alleged benefit.


Also read: Right to Life: Nigeria Abortion Law

Types of Euthanasia

Euthanasia could be voluntary, involuntary Assisted Suicide or By Action or Omission.

1. Voluntary Euthanasia: This is when the person who is killed has requested to be killed through a living ‘Will’ or by giving power of Attorney to a health proxy to take the decision on his/her behalf.

2. Involuntary Euthanasia: This is a situation when the person who is killed made an expressed wish to the contrary.

3. Assisted Suicide: This is a situation where someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that they will be used for this purpose. When it is a doctor who helps another person to kill himself, it is called “Physician Assisted Suicide.”

4. Euthanasia by Action: When a person intentionally causes a person’s death by performing an action such as by giving a Lethal Injection.

5. Euthanasia by Omission: Intentionally causing death by not providing necessaries and ordinary (usual and customary) care.

The act or practice of painlessly terminating the life of a person. It is accepted in some cultures.

In Nigeria it may be treated as criminal and subject, to prosecution under the Criminal and Penal codes.

An exception to prosecution has been developed in some jurisdictions in which the termination of the life of an incurable ill patient is no longer treated as criminal if: 

• done by a guardian or immediate family member

• After consultation with an ethics committee of a hospital.

• Accomplished by the negative means of withdrawing life support systems or extraordinary medical care rather than by some affirmative act.

In other jurisdiction like United State America, England, Canada, etc. the state is highly involved in euthanasia cases.

The state can specify the number of individuals that must agree for euthanasia to be performed; the state can specify how frequently someone can sign a euthanasia authorization. The state can also specify that only the individual can decide.

Living Wills are part in the legal aspect of euthanasia. A living Will expresses a patient’s thoughts towards his/her future medical treatment. Living will allows anyone capable of making decisions to tell the doctors beforehand that he/she does not wish to be put on life support.


Right to Life

The right to life asserts the sanctity of human life. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights put it thus:

“Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right”.

The exceptions allowed by the Nigeria Constitution with regard to right to life, amount to a serious derogation. For example, the police may, in specified circumstances, kill in the process of arrest, of quelling a riot insurrection or mutiny. See section 33 (2) (c) of the 1999 constitution.

Most constitutions provide that the right to life may be derogated from where a death sentence is imposed under due process of Law.

The right to life has often been extended in some jurisdictions to cover “the right to die” either by committing suicide or assisted suicide, as in voluntary euthanasia in case of a terminally ill patient. Several organizations exist in many parts of the world which espouse suicide and euthanasia as fundamental rights.

Dr. Akinola Aguda expressed this idea that Right to die is a fundamental postulate. He said suicide is an offence which ought to be decriminalized. He asserts that suicide is a manifestation of the illness He asked; “what does the right to life mean when indeed he feels he will be happier if that very life is taken away from him; it does not matter to him whether he lives or not?

Consequently, cases of attempted suicide should not be punished; as such an action will only increase his social depressions.

Euthanasia similarly is a question of morality and not of Criminal Law. Thus, people suffering from terminal diseases should in Aguda’s view have the right to end their suffering.


Also read: Right to life Human Rights

Conclusion on Definition, Meaning and Types of Euthanasia - Right to life 

In this article, you have been exposed to the rudimentary aspect of Law regarding the right to die in Nigeria. The effort here is to show that our law needs to be in tune with developments in Science and Technology; it doesn’t have to be mechanical or static in its approach to issues.

This article is to be taken as a further elaboration of the concept of right to life. The main objective is to expose you to debate about the necessity of the law on the right to die as an entrenched provision in the Nigeria Constitution.

You have now read both the argument for and against the provisions for the right to die. The awareness will inform our position in future law reforms in this country or to appeal to the brooding ‘omni spirit’ of the future for an amendment to the provision of the right to life in our constitution and make it more expansive enough to accommodate right to die.

Read on: Judicial Attitude to Individual or Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria

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