Friday, January 7, 2011

Million Dollar Baby & You Don't Know Jack: Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide

This polemic, touchy issue is a great topic for discussion in the classroom, but it can be too overwhelming for some cultures and religions. Make sure your audience will enjoy talking about it.

A. Read the following definitions of euthanasia and then discuss the questions that follow. This activity was inspired by the excellent, thought-provoking and polemic site It is totally worth visiting, especially if you are planning controversial conversation classes. Check the link on the sidebar.

"The word euthanasia was coined from the Greek language in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon to refer to an easy, painless, happy death. In modern times it has come to mean the active causation of a patient's death by a physician, usually through the injection of a lethal dose of medication." Kathleen Foley, MD and Herbert hendin, MD

"The term euthanasia ... originally meant only 'good death,' but in modern society it has come to mean a death free of any anxiety and pain, often brought about through the use of medication. Most recently, it has come to mean 'mercy killing' -- deliberately putting an end to someone's life in order to spare the individual's suffering." Michael Manning, MD

B. Work in pairs and discuss the following questions. Justify your answers.

1. Should euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide be legal?

2. Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide save money for the health care system?

3. Are the economic pressures in the health care system too great to safely legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide?

4. Is there a legal right to die?

5. Should the government be involved in patients' end-of-life decision-making?

6. Would legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide destroy patient trust in the medical profession?

7. Should euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide only be allowed for the terminally ill?

8. Is the debate over euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide primarily religious in nature?

9. Should euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide be legal?

C. Read about three kinds of euthanasia. In groups, decide what is the difference among them and if you believe any of them is should be legalized. Justify your answers.

Voluntary Active Euthanasia:

"Those instances of euthanasia in which a clearly competent person makes a voluntary and enduring request to be helped to die."

Passive Euthanasia:

"Passive euthanasia is an alternative name for withdrawal of treatment - the doctor withholds life-sustaining treatment. Passive euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either don't do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or when they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive. The doctor may switch off life-support machines, disconnect a feeding tube, not carry out a life-extending operation don't give life-extending drugs"
BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation Non-voluntary euthanasia

Non-Voluntary Euthanasia:

"The person cannot make a decision or cannot make their wishes known. This includes cases where the person is in a coma, the person is too young (e.g. a very young baby), the person is senile, the person is mentally retarded to a very severe extent, the person is severely brain damaged, the person is mentally disturbed in such a way that they should be protected from themselves"
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

D. Work in small groups and decide if the majority of the group agrees or disagrees with the following statements.

1. If voluntary euthanasia were to become legal, it would not be long before involuntary euthanasia would start to happen. In general form it says that if we allow something relatively harmless today, we may start a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted.

2. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide endanger people with disabilities, poor patients, elderly patients, minority patients, female patients, and infant patients.

3. Euthanasia is the best manner to stop terminally ill patients' suffering.

4. No one knows the suffering of a very ill patients, except themselves. This is the main reason for euthanasia to be practiced.

5. Euthanasia and suicide are very close to each other in essence.

E. Watch the movie segment from the brilliant movie Million Dollar Baby. It is about an extremely successful boxer, who achieved fame and fortune in her career, but becomes very ill and handicapped because of a fight. Then discuss the questions that follow.


1. Describe the scene.

2. Why does she want to die?

3. Are her reasons for willing to die reasonable? Explain it.

4. What kind of euthanasia is it? Voluntary active, passive, or non-voluntary? Justify it.

5. Do you think her coach and only friend did the right thing? Why (not)?

6. Should he be considered a murderer and suffer the consequences of the law? If so, what should his penalty be?

7. Was it suicide, murder or neither/both?

F. Now watch the segment from the movie You Don't Know Jack. It is about Dr. Jack Kevokean, also known as Dr. Death. He has been the most famous physician who conducted assisted suicide for patients who were willing to die under his assistance. He assisted more than 100 suicides and eventually ended up in prison for over 9 years, a very polemic decision. Then discuss the questions:


  1. Describe with your own words the process of assisted suicide.

  2. How does the patient feel? What about Dr. Kevorkean? And the other doctors?

  3. What's your opinion of his procedures?

  4. What are the population's feelings towards Dr. Kevokean?

  5. Should he go to jail? Why (not)?

  6. Is he actually helping or harming people?




  1. Valentine´s Day Vídeo Activity for beginners
    Film:: I hate Valentine´s Day

    1- After watching the first scene, fill in the blanks:

    What are they doing?
    a- A boy and a girl.....................................................
    b- Three guys ...........................................................
    c- A lady....................................................................
    d- A blond lady.........................................................
    e- A man...................................................................

    2-Now discuss:

    -What´s the weather like?
    -What are they celebrating?
    -How do they celebrate it in the United States?

    Scene 2: When she´s in her bedroom

    Watch the scene and discuss:
    -What´s she wearing?
    -Does she look happy?
    -What happens when she gets to the Flower shop? Why?

    I´m planning to enjoy this film with my students in February to talk about Valentine´s day.

  2. Dear Anna,
    This is really nice. I will publish a new activity on Valentine's Day based on another movie called Valentine's Day in about 2 weeks. If you want it, I could add yours to it, with all your credits, of course. If you are interested, I can add it, provide links to your institution or your own personal page, if you have one and a picture of yours. What I would need is to know the exact scene (time, length) and I will do everything else. If you want it, send me the details via email to
    Thanks for the idea, Claudio

  3. I think both your blogs are brilliant. Thanks for sharing your ideas with the rest.
    I'm goining to use this activity with a student, who is a doctor, and I'm sure it'll be very interesting form him.

  4. Thanks. I am sure you will have a lot to discuss.