The advancement of mankind had always been hand-in-hand with equality and rights. People have always fought for things they perceived they had the right to, right to abortion, right to vote, right to gay marriage etc. However none of these is as controversial and crucial as that of the right to die. Birth and death have for a long time been perceived as the wishes and acts of God. But man began playing a bigger role in these spheres too; deciding birth and death. Although issues associated with birth, like cloning, hiring wombs etc.
, are debatable; its man’s ability to induce death on request, or euthanasia, that is more controversial. Many people consider withholding of death rights by the state, as infringing their personal rights and self-determination; a state violation of fundamental human rights. Krost 2 The term ‘euthanasia’ is formed from the Greek terms ‘eu’ and ‘thanatos’ which mean ‘good’ and ‘death’ respectively. The term has several meanings just like most other terms in our language; however the implications here are immense.
Euthanasia generally has no commonly accepted and a philosophically grounded core meaning. There are several forms of euthanasia like active and passive euthanasia, voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Active euthanasia occurs when a person plays an active role by directly causing the patient’s death, like giving excessive amount of painkillers. On the other hand passive euthanasia is brought about by an act of omission like not providing a treatment or withdrawing the treatment. This form has been more recognized for ending lives at the terminal stages of incurable diseases (Kathrin, 2).
Some people do not agree with the need to differentiate euthanasia into active and passive, since the passive approach is also carried out with the intention of bringing death. The voluntary euthanasia occurs when a competent and dying patient asks for it while non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when someone else decides for the affected individual. Non-voluntary euthanasia happens when the affected individuals are either too young to decide for themselves or are mentally not capable to take a decision. Involuntary euthanasia occurs when a person desires to live, but is however allowed to die (Moreland and Geisler, 65).
Some people however do not consider involuntary euthanasia as a form of euthanasia, as the death here is not caused by the wishes of the patient. Although some may even these cases as murders, one has to recognize the fact that the killings are for the benefit of the dying person. One of the more acceptable forms of euthanasia is indirect euthanasia where treatment is offered like for pain relieving, Krost 3 which also has an effect of accelerating death. This form looks more acceptable, as killing is not the main intention.
The ethics and legality involved in euthanasia has been a major topic of debate since the mid twentieth century. James Rachels in his book Problems from Philosophy justifies death if it’s the only way to escape unrelenting pain. Sometimes terminally ill patients suffer so extreme pain that it is beyond the comprehension of people, who haven’t experienced it. Recounting the death of Irish satirist in Jonathan Swift in 1745, James Rachels describes the last three years of Swift’s life fighting excruciating pain. His last thirty six hours of life were affected by convulsions (Rachels),.
The author-philosopher also highlights a similar modern case emphasizing that when a person wants death as a means to end the suffering, particularly when the person is to die anyway, it is not wrong to help him or her to die soon. This approach is also seen to be right from the utilitarian’s perspective, which decides anything to be morally right when it can reduce misery or increase happiness. Another perspective of voluntary euthanasia associated to the utilitarian view is that it violates no person’s rights and in some cases it actually promotes the interests of all involved.
It is not difficult for physicians to normally identify terminal illness and incurable health status. When that state is near and tormenting, it is only reasonable to hasten the inevitable death, than try to prolong it, particularly when the individual wants it. Krost 4 Efforts of interested people and like-minded physicians have done too little to make euthanasia legal in most countries including UK and the US. However of late public opinion is increasingly forcing the governments to adopt a more tolerance attitude towards euthanasia.
Numerous polls conducted in US, UK, Canada and Australia show increasing support to voluntary euthanasia. It was in 1984 that the Supreme Court of Netherlands declared voluntary euthanasia as being acceptable. In the US, Oregon has accepted physician assisted suicide, though not euthanasia. However euthanasia has a long way to go towards universal acceptance. Although general legalization of death rights can be postponed if required, there is an unavoidable urgent need to permit certain cases.
Extreme cases of needless sufferings in the face of inevitable death should require no authorization for termination, other than the individual’s consent. By not allowing the individual’s last wish, the society is not only unethical but also unconcerned of the individual’s plight. Unlike voluntary euthanasia, non-voluntary euthanasia involves establishing the individual’s intentions and preferences; which often snowball into legal complications, when several parties are involved, like what happened in Terri Schiavo’s case.
Terri Schiavo was 26 years old when she suffered a cardiac arrest in 1990 and subsequently entered into a persistent vegetative state. There was a disagreement about her care between Terri Schiavo’s parents and her husband Michael Schiavo. Michael petitioned the court in 1998 to have her feeding tubes removed, saying that she had indicated during her marriage that she wouldn’t like being kept alive by life support. The parents opposed Krost 5 this, arguing that their daughter recognizes and responds to them.
They said more therapy would help her recover. Some physicians too endorsed this view saying that Terri was not in a persistent vegetative state, and therefore the tube cannot be legally removed. The parents also claimed that Terri would have wished to live, no matter what her condition was. The legal battle ended with Michael Schiavo having his way and Terri’s life support was discontinued. Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005. Euthanasia is a very personal issue, which unfortunately goes in for legal clearance on more occasions (McDougall et al. , 10-12).
This is also because there is a clash between the wishes of an individual, or patient’s family members with the with the hospital’s ethics. Opponents of euthanasia have brought into focus the benefits of modern palliative and hospice care, thereby calling for a ban on voluntary euthanasia. It must be reiterated here that good palliative and hospice care can only help in caring for the dying people and cannot bring about a cure. Also the most appropriate palliative care can only be identified by trial and error, which incorporates pain and difficulties (Stanford encyclopedia).
Palliative care is often projected as providing satisfaction and making the experience of dying a comfortable one. But, high quality palliative care is closely associated with several side effects like pain, drowsiness and incontinence. It has also been argued that there is no way of verifying if a person’s wish to die is really voluntary and that the decision has been taken on properly conceived grounds. It is however not difficult to verify the authenticity of the decision, as physicians ensure that such decisions are directly conveyed to them. When required by the patients, physicians apprise them of
Krost 6 their treatment by giving them the pros and cons of the treatments and options, which ensure the decision taken by patient’s are well considered and valuable. Some people are of the opinion that physicians are trained to heal and improve the quality of life; and their assisting or bringing in death upon ones they are supposed to cure, is ethically wrong. But then it should be reminded here that physicians have a more important role than healing or curing, and that is to alleviate pain and sufferings and euthanasia therefore becomes a primary tenet of a physician’s job.
The individual’s right to freedom from undue paternalistic interference, is being increasingly perceived and accepted. Any individual can demand a particular right, which cannot be denied when the desired right affects only him or her. Decision, which decide the course of their individual lives need to be respected. Contemporary supporters of voluntary euthanasia hold the right to self-determination as the most important right in ethics and law. When this right is confronted with all other rights, the right to self-determination requires to prevail (Paterson, 22).
The circumstances, manner and timing of death are very intimate decisions, a person could ever make. By restricting these choices, the state is depriving people, a sense of self-worth. Although some forms of euthanasia like non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia can be allowed more deliberation and debate, voluntary euthanasia is purely an individual’s decision, which is beyond the realms of public discussion. Until we give them this right of theirs, we only make them suffer unnecessarily, with the belief that we are actually helping them.And Krost 7 when they suffer in agony and silence, their inability to help themselves end their ordeal, pains them more than the actual ailment.
McDougall, J. F, Martha Gorman and Roberts C. S. Euthanasia: A reference handbook pg 10-12 ABC-CLIO, 2007 Kathrin, Anne. Euthanasia – An overview about forms, differences and difficulties. Grin Verlag, 2008 Paterson, Craig. Assisted Suicide and euthanasia. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. , 2008 Moreland J.
P, Geisler, Norman The life and death debate: Moral issues of our time. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990 Euthanasia and the right to die – Jennifer M. Scherer, Rita James Simon page 10 Rowman & Littlefield, 1999 Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (1996) Voluntary Euthanasia [Electronic Version] downloaded on 24th April 2009 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/euthanasia-voluntary/ Rachels J. Euthanasia, Matters of life and death 2nd Ed. Quoted in The morality of euthanasia The right thing to do. 1986