Euthanasia

Mercy death or alternatively, mercy killing, popularly termed, ‘Euthanasia’ is the act or practice of killing or ending one’s life in order to kill someone painlessly and in a more dignified way. Such means are generally applicable in case of an individual suffering from incurable disease or a terminal illness via means of lethal dose or suspension of life support treatment. Such a practice might as well occur as voluntary action by the consent of the patient or his relatives, however in the language of a protest it may be stated as assisting someone to commit suicide.

Despite the exercise of one’s freewill or authorized consent killing is an offense by law and hence even mercy death should not escape that typecast. It is more convenient to condemn such a practice when it is viewed from the humanitarian angle and fingers are pointed to the ultimate consequence, which is death. Classifications:

Mercy killing can be of three types – passive, non aggressive and aggressive. While passive euthanasia refers to withholding common treatments like antibiotics, drugs or surgery or giving a medication to relieve pain despite knowing that it might cause death, e.g. high doses of sleeping pills, non aggressive euthanasia deals with withdrawal of life support systems and hence is more controversial.

Aggressive euthanasia is the most controversial of all since it refers to use of lethal substances or force to end lives. According to Rachel’s argument however, if the motive and consequences are the same then there is no difference between active (aggressive) or passive euthanasia. Euthanasia is also differentiated according to voluntary or non voluntary withdrawal.

In case of voluntary withdrawal the person’s direct consent is taken. This is the least controversial of all in this classification. Non voluntary euthanasia refers to the application of the practice when there is an indirect consent from someone amongst the patient’s family or friends. Involuntary euthanasia is equivalent to murder as it is the practice of euthanasia against one’s will or without consent. Thesis:

In the context of the protests raised against mercy death or euthanasia, this paper argues that voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide should not be allowed in the state. The versatility in public opinion about the euthanasia arises mainly from the fact that religious diversity exists in US. From a survey it was found that people who were not among any religious groups gave their support in favor of euthanasia. The Christian groups were most inclined to oppose euthanasia and the groups covered Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and Catholics. The moderate Protestants demonstrated mixed opinions regarding the end-of-life decisions. Conservative protestants were more opposed to euthanasia than the moderate ones.

The liberal protestants were the most supportive in this regard. Though the Catholics were against the practice, yet they were equally supportive of the practice as the moderate protestants. It was those people who visited the church regularly that took a more opposed view that the crowd which was less attached to religious institutions. (Magnusson, 1997) Buddhism strongly opposes anything said against life, even highlighting miseries of life is forbidden and so is the withdrawal of best possible treatment in order to ensure a more painless and easy death. (Barnes, 1996) Even Hinduism views euthanasia as murder act and release of the Atman (soul) before time. Again, when a body is in a vegetative state it is perceived that the spirit has already left and there is no quality life remaining.

However the avatars has chosen when to leave their spirits and attain Moksha. (“Religion & Ethics – Hinduism” 2008) Ethnicity has also been a strong decisive factor in euthanasia approach. Recent studies have demonstrated that European-Americans have shown more acceptance towards mercy death than African-Americans. A probable reason could be the low levels of trust in medical treatments resulting from the past history of medical abuses towards the minority race. Arguments against physician assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. One of the major theories against euthanasia is the Divine Command theory, which emphasizes upon Christian morality and sanctity of life.

According to this theory, euthanasia in neither forms (active and passive) are feasible or permissible. This is based on the ground that life is a gift of God. Thus under any circumstances, it is immoral to end a person’s life even if it is to end his suffering. Even in case of voluntary euthanasia, i.e., when the patient gives approval or makes wills it is required to probe a little further and discover at what point of time or in what state the patient had made his will regarding end-of-life decisions.

Often it may be the case that his signature is taken by his family and relatives at the weakest moment of his health and things are manipulated accordingly. Even the patient might not be in a rational and sensible state of mind to exercise his right-to-die. This is often the case when the person is in his old age and might suffer from a kind of amnesia or other weaknesses.

The sanctity of human life is questioned by moral theology of Christians who argue that human life ultimately belong to God and Orthodox Judaism also takes the similar approach. Voluntary euhanasia is a sinful act according to some theologists and religious thinkers on grounds of killings without any support of justice. (“Euthanasia and Judaism: Jewish Views of Euthanasia and Suicide”, 2008)

As far as utilitarianism is concerned, there are basically two different kinds or version of the same – act and rule utilitarianism. Utilitarian theory is based on the condition of the person concerned. If euthanasia brings about a betterment of the person’s life, that is, if it really helps in ending the sufferings of the person, then is may be justified on the grounds of utilitarian theory. For instance telling a lie might save a situation rather than saying the truth, which might make the situation worse. Under such circumstances, act utilitarianism will apply the principle directly to a given situation and according shall find telling a lie justified under the above-mentioned circumstances.

Again, Rule utilitarianism tries to analyze the underlying justification for the rule itself. The rule utilitarianism decides the action of a person based on the justification of the moral ground behind the action in question. Since lying is not justified by utilitarian maxim, telling the truth is supposed to have better consequences in the long run and therefore one should abstain from lying at any cost.

Therefore euthanasia is not permissible under Rule Utilitarianism. Here killing is not morally supported by the utilitarian maxim although the victim might be suffering if he is alive and killing might release him from the pain. Going by Act utilitarianism the death may be permissible. However whether or not the person might at some point of time recover is a question that needs to be answered.

Again, it also needs to be analyzed whom the death would benefit – the victim lying in coma with hardly any feelings and senses or the people in the surrounding who are bearing a huge cost and apprehension. In the later case, it would be a selfish and immoral act again. On the basis of Kant’s deontological moral theory it may be claimed that a person should act according to his or her duty irrespective of the consequences.

This sense of duty shall urge a doctor to follow his duties of giving life to a patient instead of attempting to take it away. Thus based on this theory, mercy death or euthanasia should not be allowed. Similarly it is the duty of friends and relatives to save the victim and the duty of every other civilian who is witnessing this case to help the victim live instead of assisting in euthanasia. Practice of voluntary euthanasia somewhere demeans the role of professional doctors especially the European doctors who have swore to the Oath of Hippocrates – “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect”

(“The Hippocratic Oath”, 1910). But since 1970s there is little evidence of this oath. If there is some context to understand that the cause of a patient's illness or suffering can be curable, the correct action should be attempting to take measures to cure or involve palliative care. (“Supplemental Notes on Kant”, 1999) From the above discussion it is clear that the three philosophical theories support the case against euthanasia. Lastly, we may say that since human beings do not have the right to give life, there is no moral justification under which we may try to take it away.

Morally and ethically, one needs to be averse towards euthanasia. Often economic grounds i.e. lack of finance and psychological pressures may lie behind the patients’ consent. These cases cannot be taken to be authentic and hence needs to be discarded as voluntary euthanasia. It has often been the concern of critics that doctors and physicians might have some economic incentives behind giving their consent or motivating the close authority of the patient.

Social workers have often played a role towards initiating the motive of hospice treatment – the practice of treating patients undergoing a terminal or non curable illness such that he gets the best possible life as long as he is alive. It is rather a system of care and not really cure. Hospice acknowledges death as the final stage of life and looks forward to enable patients to continue an alert, less painful life and manage other symptoms so that the last days of their lives may pass with dignity and quality as they remain surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice treatment neither lengthens nor shortens life span but helps to enhance the quality of life no matter how many days are remaining with the victim.

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