Ethical-Legal Dilemma Euthanasia

Ethical-LegalDilemma: Euthanasia

Ethical-LegalDilemma: Euthanasia

Advancednurses are faced with situations that require them to make ethicaldecision that affect them as well as their patients. Ethical dilemmascause significant challenges, especially in the health care sectorsince they have no satisfactory resolution (Fant, 2013). Euthanasiais one of the current ethical dilemmas that advanced nurses face intheir daily practices. From the ethical point of view, opponents ofthe administration of euthanasia assert that people should be allowedto die without pain and with dignity. From the legal point of view,euthanasia is equated with killing, and, therefore, it is a crime.This paper will address the administration of euthanasia from both anethical and legal points of view and recommend solutions to unravelthe dilemma.

Anethical principle and law violated by euthanasia

Thereare two major factors indicating that the performing euthanasiaresults in the violation of the principle of justice. First,euthanasia is part of the new social movement that is characterizedby self-serving and self-gratification behavior, but it does notindicate the administration of justice to patients (Quaghebeur,Casterle &amp Gastmans, 2009). Secondly, the fact that patients havethe right to die do not justifies the nurses` decision to take theirlives. In addition, the euthanasia contravenes code 14490, part a.2of the U.S. laws Cornel (University Law School, 2014). This codeprovides that mercy killing, euthanasia, and assisted suicide arecriminal offenses and an engagement in such services should beconsidered as an illegal activity.

Decisionthat can prevent the violation of ethical principle

Obtainingthe consent of the patient is the most appropriate means of avoidingconflict with the principle of justice and the law on assistedsuicide. According to Quaghebeur, Casterle &amp Gastmans (2009)patients have the right to die and should be given the autonomy todecide to die in a dignified manner. Therefore, allowing suchpatients to decide and allow the nurses to assist them in ending thepain through euthanasia is a justifiable decision. Such consent willalso shield nurses from the risk of criminal liability.

Principlesand laws that apply to the dilemma of euthanasia

Apartfrom the principle of justice, there are three other principles thatapply to the dilemma of euthanasia. First, the principle ofbeneficence states that nurses should act as patients’ advocates,and must always seek to do well. Based on this principle, nursesshould focus more on the quality instead of the length of life of thepatient (Quaghebeur, Casterle &amp Gastmans, 2009). Secondly, theprinciple of non-maleficence indicates that the euthanasia isunethical given that fact that human life is irreversible. Third, theprinciple of autonomy defends euthanasia since it gives patients theopportunity to exercise the autonomy with regard to their end-of lifedecisions (Quaghebeur, Casterle &amp Gastmans, 2009). The laws onmurder and suicide can both apply in the case of euthanasia. Forexample, the decision to administer euthanasia without a clearconsent of the client can be judged on the basis of Chapter 15 code1111 (murder) and code 1112 (manslaughter) of the U.S. laws (CornelUniversity Law School, 2014).


Thecase of Baxter v. Montana suggests that the patients’ consent isimportant and the key determinant of the ethics in the administrationof euthanasia. In this case, the plaintiff, Robert Baxter, requestedthe court to determine the constitutional right for one to receiveeuthanasia (Pro &amp Con Organization, 2014). The court held thatthe Montana laws failed to indicate that euthanasia was against anyof the public policies. Therefore, the health care providers would beshielded from criminal liability by the consent given by patients.

Differencebetween ethical and legal reasoning

Fromthe ethical point of view, people should be allowed to exercise theautonomy by deciding to die in dignity and allow other people to helpthem achieve this goal in case they cannot manage to do it on theirown (Ethics Guide, 2014). The legal basis of euthanasia varies indifferent countries and states, where some of them authorize it undercertain conditions, while others prohibit under all circumstances.This ethical-moral reasoning model suggests that the decision onwhether euthanasia is wrong or right depends on the view that onechooses to take and the state or the countries from where euthanasiais to be practiced.


Althoughit is difficult to address ethical-legal dilemmas, there are threerecommendations that can resolve the moral distress of the advancednurses with regard to the issue of euthanasia. First, nurses shouldview the issue of euthanasia from the broader perspective, instead ofanalyzing it using a single principle of law. Secondly, advancednurses should address the request for euthanasia with a balanced viewthat will take both the legal and ethical provisions into account.Third, advanced nurses should analyze the request for theadministration of euthanasia case-by-case to ensure that the requestmeets the criteria set by the law and it is consistent with the basicprinciples of ethics.


Euthanasiais one of the issues that subject advanced nurses to a legal-ethicaldilemma. The controversy behind euthanasia arises from the two campswith opposing views where one supports it while the other one opposeseuthanasia. However, the fact that both camps have ethical and legalfacts to defend their position complicates the issue of euthanasiafurther. In essence, the issue of consent by the patient is crucialin both the legal and ethical contexts. However, advanced nurses havea duty to analyze the patients’ request for euthanasia case by caseto determine if it is consistent with the legal guidelines andethical principles.


CornelUniversity Law School (2014). Assisted suicide funding restrictionAct 1997. CornelUniversity Law School.Retrieved December 18, 2014, from

EthicsGuide (2014). Ethical problems of euthanasia. BBC.Retrieved December 18, 2014, from

Fant,C. (2013, March 26). Major ethical dilemmas in nursing. NurseTogether LLC.Retrieved December 18, 2014, from

Pro&amp Con Organization (2014). State-by-stateguide to physician-assisted suicide.Santa Monica, CA: Pros $ Cons Organization.

Quaghebeur,T., Casterle, B., &amp Gastmans, C. (2009). Nursing and euthanasia:A review of argument-based ethics literature. NursingEthics,16, 466-486.