‘Death Struggle’ [1915] Edvard Munch

“Death is sometimes a punishment, sometimes a reward and for some a favour.”
- Seneca

Euthanasia has also been called mercy killing; it is not easy to explain the imprecision that this contrast of meanings introduces. Here are two examples of possible candidates for Euthanasia: 1) A man, bedridden, lies in shocking agony. His death is imminent! Is it a human right to opt for a quick and painless death, rather than a slow and painful one? 2) A man is supported by artificial respiration mechanisms. The autopsy shows that the brain has died several days before the heart. Would it be murder to turn off the artificial respiration mechanisms? Is your life or the act of dying being prolonged? Perhaps the precise moment involves a reasonable imprecision …

Euthanasia is a term created by the English philosopher and politician Francis Bacon (1561–1626), it means: “death caused without suffering by means of suitable agents.” In truth, the meaning of the term is imprecise, but it is a reasonable imprecision.

Mercy Killing

The concept of killing or murder is generally defined as: “death carried out unlawfully and with violence”. Rather, mercy is “clemency, compassion.” Murder is a crime, mercy is an act of kindness. It seems like a haunting and hopeless clash between good and evil.

Proponents of the procedure say: for us, the spirit of the situation is to cause death with a “laudable” intention. That an individual imprisoned by a disabling disease or dependent on a ventilator or other device — that does not allow him to extract pleasures or satisfactions from life — will escape from so much unnecessary suffering, will cease to be a ‘living corpse.’ We would summarise the justification here in one word: compassion.

Now, take the floor those who oppose the legalisation of Euthanasia: everything that you have just said does not change anything — we think that the procedure is a crime. We conclude that what you call “laudable intention” does not acquire significant enough dimension to not deserve the qualification of criminal.

The two forms of Merciful Death

In the case of a patient medically considered a ‘vegetable’ — maintained with artificial respiration — is it morally different not to start artificial respiration than to stop it once applied? This allows us to point out that there are two types of Euthanasia: passive and active. The first is when death results from the omission of acts intended to prolong life. The second is the deliberate application of measures in order to produce death.

Why is it such a problematic and controversial topic? Because around it the opinions of the most powerful sectors of society intervene: the Law, the Church, Health and those close to the dying person, that is, the relatives.

If I knew how to paint, I would make the following painting: a human being in his bed on the brink of death. In the four corners surrounding his bed I would locate 1) the doctor together with the patient’s relatives; 2) a representative of justice; 3) a priest — and in the remaining corner; 4) a serene and immutable lady named Death, waiting for him.

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at