1.0 Introduction

The word ‘euthanasia’ was derived from two Greek words – ‘euthokos’ and ‘thantos’ which mean ‘cheerful’ and ‘death’ respectively. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, euthanasia, which is also called ‘Mercy Killing’, is an act or practice of painlessly putting to death persons who suffer from painful and incurable or stressing disease or an incapacitated physical disorder.[1] Withholding treatment from such patients or withdrawing their artificial life-support measures also falls within the purview of the concept of euthanasia.[2]

In this article, we would consider the historical background of euthanasia, the classification of euthanasia, and the disposition of Nigerian legislation towards the concept of euthanasia.

2.0 Historical Background of Euthanasia

Euthanasia has been consistently brought to the limelight due to the shift that has been experienced in the way people or nations perceive death. It is important to note that some countries have embraced euthanasia, which is evident in its legalization in these countries. In Netherlands, where both euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, both terms refer to a circumstance in which a person is subject to intolerable pain or suffering (even if they are not terminally ill), to the point that the illness is irreversible. On October 27, 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which allows terminally ill individuals to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.[3]

It is important to note that for euthanasia to be actualized, at least two parties must be involved. These include the patient and the physician. Assisted suicide or euthanasia necessitates the involvement of the patient or the person who wants to carry out the merciful death action.

Considering the tradition of some tribes in Nigeria, one could succinctly trace the presence of euthanasia. At a point, in the Southeastern part of Nigeria, the traditional precepts of the people considered the existence of twins as an abomination. This surreptitiously occasioned the killing of twins upon their birth. Such babies were many times thrown into some designated evil forest and abandoned to die.[4] It is pertinent to note some parents who could not bear their twin babies to be devoured by beasts or whatever demon they were meant to be fed to, would rather choose to strangle their children to death or feed them poison, thereby granting them what they believed to be a merciful death or a less painful death. All these practices are within the confines of the definition of euthanasia.

3.0 Classification of Euthanasia

There are six basic types of euthanasia. These include:

  • voluntary euthanasia,
  • non-voluntary euthanasia,
  • involuntary euthanasia,
  • physician-assisted suicide,
  • active euthanasia, and
  • passive euthanasia.

When euthanasia is carried out with the expressed desire and approval of the person in question, it is said to be voluntary. Additionally, voluntary euthanasia entails a commitment to the fundamental ethical principle of respect for autonomy. In this instance, it is done on a dying person’s wish.[5] Non-voluntary euthanasia is actualized when a patient is incapable of having or expressing opinions about the continuation of his or her life. Involuntary euthanasia entails the killing of a person who has not requested for aid in dying or without their explicit request or consent.[6]Physician-assisted euthanasia is occasioned when a physician suggests to a patient means of committing suicide for the patient to personally terminate their lives. Passive euthanasia is carried out when medical treatment is withdrawn or withheld from a patient, with or without his consent in order to end the patient’s life. Active euthanasia takes place when a medical intervention to put an end to the patient’s life.[7] In other words, active euthanasia includes the intentional use of lethal means, such as providing a lethal injection, to end a person’s life.[8]

4.0 Euthanasia under Nigerian Legislation

With respect to the consideration of the legality of euthanasia under the Nigerian legislations, recourse has to be made to the Criminal Code Act[9] which is applicable in the Southern parts of Nigeria and the Penal Code[10] which is applicable in the Northern parts of the country. First, it is important to note that in these two legislations, there is absence of the term ‘euthanasia’ or ‘assisted suicide’. The Criminal Code Act provides that

“any person who attempts to unlawfully kill another, or with intent unlawfully to kill another does any act, or omits to any act which it is his duty to do, and such act or omission being of such nature as to be likely to endanger human life, is guilty of felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.”[11]

The Act also provides that “any person who procures another to kill himself counsels another to kill himself and thereby induces him to do so, or aids another in killing himself, is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for life.”[12]

Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act provides that “any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

The consideration of these provisions precludes the legality of euthanasia or assisted suicide in Nigeria. Thus, the consent of a person in respect of occasioning his own death does not in any way liberate the person by whom such death is actualized from a criminal responsibility, whether the person is a physician or not. The provisions of the Criminal Code Act as enunciated above criminalizes euthanasia as opposed to some other countries like Netherlands where euthanasia is legally recognized and permissible.

The position of the Nigerian legislations in criminalizing euthanasia was upheld in the case of State v. Okezie[13] where the accused who in a bid to test the efficacy of some charms on the deceased, with the consent of the deceased, shot him in the chest, as a result of which he died, was convicted of murder.[14] Where consent is given by any person as regards the orchestration of his death, such consent would not exonerate the other party who carried out the act or omission which caused the death from criminal liability.

5.0 Conclusion

Despite the recognition and legalization of assisted suicide or euthanasia in certain countries, many other countries, including Nigeria are yet to embrace let alone legalize it. That a person provides consent to occasion their death by an external person is not an escape route from being criminally liable. This is evidenced in the extant legislations of Nigeria that provide for the criminal liability of persons who engage in assisted suicide or euthanasia.


[1] Black, H. C. (1991). Blacks Law Dictionary, 1991. St. Paul: West Publishing Co. p. 554

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/euthanasia Accessed on 19th January, 2023.

[3]https://www.oregon.gov/oha/ph/providerpartnerresources/evaluationresearch/deathwithdignityact/pages/index.aspx#:~:text=Oregon’s%20Death%20with%20Dignity%20Act,-Site%20Navigation&text=On%20October%2027%2C%201997%2C%20Oregon,a%20physician%20for%20that%20purpose. Accessed on the 25th January, 2023.

[4] Obi, M. C. (2014). A critical appraisal of euthanasia under Nigerian laws. Nnamdi Azikiwe University Journal of International Law and Jurisprudence5, 75-88.

[5] Gulati, S. Student Paper _ An Overview of the Ethical Concepts, Legal issues and Arguments in Euthanasia–A Student‘s Perspective _. Zaria, Northwest, Nigeria., 51.

[6] Obi, supra note 4.

[7] Cica, N. (1996). Euthanasia–the Australian Law in an International Context. Part 1: Passive Voluntary Euthanasia: Research Paper 3: 1996-1997.

[8] Gulati, S. Student Paper _ An Overview of the Ethical Concepts, Legal issues and Arguments in Euthanasia–A Student‘s Perspective _. Zaria, Northwest, Nigeria., 51.

[9] Cap C38, LFN 2004.

[10] Cap P3, LFN 2004.

[11] Section 320 of the Criminal Code Act, 1990

[12] Section 326 Ibid

[13] (1972), 2 ECSLR 419

[14] Obi, supra note 4.


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