The term euthanasia comes from ancient Greek and it means “easy death” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Compared to the ancient times in which this word originated, it seems much harder in today’s society to achieve this epitome of a good death. In the ancient times, people died due to diseases that doctors could not cure, and their lives were ended earlier because it was considered cruel to watch a person die a slow and painful death.
Today, thanks to the great advancement of technology, more and more diseases are becoming easier to cure and create a better living environment for the person affected. However, there are still many patients who have incurable diseases and disorders that disallow them to have a happy existence. Euthanasia is defined as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). This “mercy killing” epitomizes an ethical predicament.
There are some diseases that hamper the basic facilities of some people, causing them to painstakingly live day to day or be on life support. Other diseases cause major weakness in a person’s mental capabilities, which can cause severe depression and other psychotic disorders. For these reasons and several others, people may request euthanasia, and because of their basic human rights, they believe their requests should be respected.
However, euthanasia contradicts one of the rudimentary principles of morality, killing is erroneous. In the perspective of the secular society, euthanasia goes against one of the principal laws that it is to endorse the inviolability of human life. In the religious community, euthanasia violates one of the Ten Commandments for the Jewish and Christian traditions, “Thou shalt not kill.” However, can euthanasia truly be considered murder?
That would solely depend on which type of euthanasia one is referring to. There is involuntary and voluntary euthanasia. Involuntary, which would occur if the person did not have a living will and they suffered from a coma or a vegetative state, is murder, whereas voluntary is more like suicide (Truog, and Berde 353-360). Due to the aforementioned conflicts, many countries have not legalized euthanasia. However unpopular this form of treatment is, Oregon, Washington, Montana, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg have all legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide (“Euthanasia.com”).
The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is which party ends it. With euthanasia, the physician or nurse is the one to act last, as in they give the patient the lethal shot. In assisted suicide, the doctor simply hands the patient the drugs to take and leaves it up to them to complete the task, so it is in their hands that they die. This then brings up another question, is it morally appropriate for a doctor or nurse to knowingly kill their patient, or does it go against their Hippocratic oath? Doctors take the Hippocratic oath once they earn their doctorate in medicine.
This oath binds them to practice medicine ethically, but it does not state what ethically means in terms of the patient’s well being. Some would argue that euthanasia and assisted suicide is against the oath as the doctor’s are supposed to help the person to the fullest extent, which would ideally be a cure for whatever ails the patient. Others would debate that once a doctor has done all they can do and the patient is more or less at a stand still with their suffering and it is causing that patient to lose their quality of life, it should be the physicians responsibility to make that person feel as content as possible, even if that means death.
One doctor, Dr. Cox, went against his Britain’s law that said euthanasia was illegal in 1992. He chose to give in to his patient’s pleads for death as he knew there was nothing he could do to help his patient any longer. Dr. Cox was stripped of his license to practice medicine and he was put in jail for several years on the bases that, even though his patient’s living will stated that they would want to be taken off of life support if their prognosis did not look good, he murdered the elderly man (“Euthanasia, right to die”).
Another important question that is repeatedly debated about with euthanasia is does it devalue human life? When putting the arguments for the affirmative and the negative side by side, one would see that euthanasia does in fact devalue life. It deteriorates society’s respect for life because people could in theory pretend to be extremely sick and then have a doctor legally kill them.
With the acceptance of euthanasia, society also accepts that some lives, as in those who would be candidates for euthanasia, are values less so than others, or the healthy and strong people in the world. As said earlier, there are two types of euthanasia; involuntary and voluntary. With the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia, there would be a slippery slope that would undoubtedly lead to involuntary euthanasia and the slaying of people who are considered to be objectionable.
Then there is also the true thought that euthanasia may not actually be in the patient’s best interests. The patient could ask for euthanasia too prematurely, and if they are killed and the doctor realizes something could have been done, the blame would be placed on that doctor. Additionally, how would the government’s role in euthanasia play out? Does the government have the right to tell people who are deemed competent and terminally ill that they have to live and suffer? Does the government also then have the right to tell the medical community what they can and cannot do, even if it goes against a citizen’s wishes? This is where one would start to see parallels between the abortion issue and euthanasia.
The government should not have the right to tell people what they can and cannot do with their bodies. One key part about American history is that it is known for being the land of the free. If American citizens allow the government to slowly but surely twine their fingers into their independent lifestyles and choices, then would America not turn into a dictatorship with democratic stripes? The government should allow euthanasia to be a choice for any American citizen. However, they do need to regulate it because the process would be abused badly if they didn’t.
By requiring the patients who are candidates to have a mental examination by a psychiatrist as well as several examinations by several different doctors, ensuring that the patient does not have a mental handicap and there is no other method to cure them, the government would be able to cut down drastically on the exploitation of the system. The government would also have to finance a routine inspection to be done, preferably at random, of each hospital that performs euthanasia to ensure that families of patients, who have no written living wills or have specifically asked that they not be taken off of life support, are not committing involuntary euthanasia (“Euthanasia.com”).
A few anecdotes that pertain to euthanasia, and also embody C.W. Mill’s sociological imagination, which is defined as the application of imaginative though to the asking and answering of sociological questions (“Social Science Dictionary”), are the stories of Anthony Bland, Sue Rodriguez, and Ramon Sanpedro (“Euthanasia, right to die”). By March of 1993 in the UK, Mr. Bland had been in a vegetative state for three years.
Mr. Bland had supposedly told his family that if his condition, which is not stated, had gotten to the point where we was in a coma, he did not want to remain on life support. However, because he never made this legal by way of a living will, the Court Order that allowed him to finally be allowed off the life support did not come until he had been in the vegetative state for three years.
Mrs. Rodriguez was slowly and painfully dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Even though she herself pleaded with the courts to allow her to have her doctor help her commit assisted-suicide when her muscles atrophied to the point in which her quality of life had completely deteriorated, they denied her. In February of 1994, a doctor helped her in secret, thus breaking the law, in order for her to finally rest at peace. And lastly, Mr. Sanpedro also went through the courts in order to receive medical assistance with his death. As a young boy, Mr. Sanpedro was paralyzed from the neck down after an unfortunate accident while swimming in Spain.
The courts denied him because there were plenty of other people who were in the same condition that lived decent enough lives. Given these points, it is easy to comprehend how euthanasia is such a controversial topic throughout the world. Due to its conflicts with a multitude of organizations and communities, that there are still so many legal questions left unanswered by the legal professionals, and that there are no guidelines from any country in which euthanasia is legal, it may be quite some time before euthanasia is ever resolved.
The core problem with the issue of euthanasia is every question that is debated is opinionated. There are not enough facts about this topic in order for people to be able to present the subject in a matter of an unbiased attitude. This essay could only contribute the opinions from each side, which fortunately balanced its content.
Therefore, will the world ever be able to create a conclusion on euthanasia? Most likely yes, but one should not expect these results any time in the foreseeable future. My opinion on euthanasia is that voluntary euthanasia should be legalized. I was quite pleased that I was able to find evidence on the Internet that confirmed my beliefs about government’s role concerning the legality of euthanasia. Even though my grandfather asked for euthanasia at 74 years old, and was the cured about two years later of his severe lung cancer, I think that if he had truly wanted it, he should have been allowed to have it.
He had suffered through the chemotherapy for a few years, was extremely weak, and could barely do even the simplest and most basic tasks without my grandmother’s help. Granted, I am glad that euthanasia was not legal as I would have lost an amazing grandfather, but I hated to see him being forced through that anguish, and it made me reflect on how other people must feel who have it even worse. I only wish that a few more states would legalize either voluntary euthanasia or assisted-suicide so researchers would be able to compile even more data on the positives and negatives and the real issues with euthanasia.
“Cases.” Euthanasia, right to die. N.p., 2012. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.euthanasia.cc/cases.html>.
“Euthanasia.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Apr 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/euthanasia>.
“Information for Research on Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Living Wills, Mercy Killing” Euthanasia.com.
“Sociological Imagination.” Social Science Dictionary. N.p., 2012. Web. 1 May 2012. <http://sociology.socialsciencedictionary.com/Sociology-Dictionary/SOCIOLOGICAL_IMAGINATION>.
Truog, Robert M.D., and Charles Berde M.D Ph. D. “Pain, Euthanasia, and Anestheiologists.” Anesthesiology. 78.2 (2003): 353-360. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.