What is euthanasia? Euthanasia is a medicinal action used to relieve pain bearing, terminally ill patients in a peaceful way. In fact, in Greek, euthanasia means “good death.” Who wouldn’t want a harmonious death opposed to the unbearable painful death their illness would cause? It seems, from my point of view, inhumane to argue on this question. Euthanasia is categorized in different ways, which include voluntary and involuntary, and is further divided into active or passive variants.
Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed at a patient’s explicit request and with fully informed consent. Involuntary euthanasia is euthanasia conducted when the patient is competent but without the patient's explicit request and/or fully informed consent. (Boyd) Active euthanasia is the intentionally administering of medication or other interventions to cause a patient's death, i.e. lethal injection.
Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of treatments necessary for the patient’s continuance of life, i.e. medication or life support. There is also a category termed non-voluntary euthanasia which is when the patient is incompetent or not able to explicitly request death. (Boyd) Euthanasia is also referred to as physician-assisted suicide often. The main terms I will focus on in this paper are voluntary active and passive euthanasia as well as involuntary passive euthanasia. Proponents of euthanasia usually take a stance by expressing that death is inevitable and so imminent.
They believe the pain that will precede death is so unbearable that the only morally appropriate response is to end the life of the person by voluntary, active means. Opponents contend that euthanasia is nothing more than suicide and murder. I compare illness or some sort of ailment to a murderer. The ill person is the victim. The victim is running down a long alley with the murderer (the illness) closing from behind. Therefore, death for the victim is inescapable. Comparing the illness to the unavoidable murder of the patient makes peaceful physician-assisted suicide seem that much more appropriate.
So when does one know when it is “right” or not to intentionally end a life? As onlookers we personally don’t know, the patient does, and in involuntary cases, the patient’s family or living will can justify when the appropriate time should be. Studies concerning end-of-life options show that most physicians are opposed to physician-assisted suicide if suggested by anyone but the patient.
(Quill) Although this thought is what most physicians make so clear to the public, many individuals cannot help but worry some physicians will abuse the right of legal assisted suicide. For the most part, America has no clear boundaries for assisted suicide cases and this produces skeptical views for those against euthanasia. (Homola) But, in the democratic country we live in today, is it not true that everybody is to respect the rights of other people? Is it morally acceptable to make someone suffer until their natural death occurs against their will? Robert Weir discusses the ethical assessments and positions in his book Physician-Assisted Suicide. In the following excerpt, Weir explains that the individual well-being of a person is a main value that supports assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Life itself is commonly understood to be a central good for persons, often valued for its own sake, as well as necessary for the pursuit of all other goods within a life. But when a competent patient decides to forgo all further life-sustaining treatment, then the patient, either explicitly or implicitly, commonly decides that the best life possible for him or her with treatment is of sufficiently poor quality that it is worse than no further life at all. Life is then no longer considered a benefit by the patient but has now become without value or meaning and a burden. (Weir 90)
Every person has the right to decide what’s best for their mind, body and soul. Euthanasia should be a person’s right of choice legally and ethically. It deems unconstitutional to deny such desires. The right to decide not to have life prolonged by extraordinary, artificial means is termed “right to die.” We are able to make choices for ourselves our entire lives; it’s what we are taught to do growing up and continues to be a daily practice. We choose what we wear, where we attend college, our line of work and who we marry—all if we want to. It is here where we exercise our right of being a “free” American to reach out to individuals uninformed and carry on making our own decisions.
It doesn’t exactly feel free to be an American when it comes to the most important choice of your life, the decision being your actual existence, not in your own hands. The physical conditions are what make one question the thought of voluntary death Most patients that choose the option of voluntary euthanasia are motivated primarily by loss of autonomy, loss of control of their bodily functions, decreased ability to enjoy life, and tiredness of dying. (Quill) No one wants to endure grievous pain and no one wants to watch a loved one go through such agony either. How can anyone morally oppose voluntary euthanasia to save someone from the suffering all individuals try to avoid?
If a patient is on their deathbed, waiting to die with unbearable deterioration and blatant exhaustion, voluntary euthanasia offers a merciful way of averting that misery. All too often, the terminally ill experience needless pain and are kept alive without real hope, as their families ache alongside. Timothy Quill explains his experience with such events with his father in the scholarly article he wrote. He began to deteriorate rapidly from an ill-defined dementing illness, and his confusion and intermittent agitation did not respond to the standard treatments that were tried. He had made wishes clear about avoiding any prolongation of his dying, but now he had lost the capacity to make decisions for himself.
Furthermore, we did not know whether his life span was measured in months or years. He was unable to sleep or relax at night, despite trials of neuroleptics, antidepressants, and anti anxiety agents. How were we to honor his wishes and values and help him find dignity and peace in the last phase of his life? (Quill) So, are these patients being saved by medical technology or merely prevented from dying a natural death? A question listed on a survey I conducted using participants aged 21-45 asked “If you fell into a vegetated state, how long would you want to be kept alive by the use of machines?”
One hundred percent of surveyors expressed that they would not want to be kept alive artificially longer than hearing their favorite classic rock song once more or until their families had enough time to say goodbye. (Survey on Euthanasia) Pulling the plug would be categorized as involuntary passive euthanasia if the patient is in an unconscious state of mind, unable to give full consent. Not only do the circumstances of an unconscious person cause emotional pain for the patient and the family, it can also cost up to $10,000 a day to provide for someone in the intensive care unit while unconscious. (“The Cost of Dying”)
From miserable emotional pain affecting both parties, patient and family, physical suffering from the patient, and absurd hospital bills—all evidence directs our decisions concerning euthanasia from a logical point of view. Five out of six surveyors agree that voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide should be legal and decided upon by the patient. The one surveyor expressing opposing views felt this way based solely on religious beliefs. (Survey on Euthanasia) Many Americans have different religious views.
Most people with strong religious beliefs do not support euthanasia, and claim it to be immoral. With all due respect to such individuals, it is unfair to patients who aren’t concerned with such reasons to suffer day after day because the government feels like it should side with such religious beliefs (in determining the legalization of the matter).
After spending so much time battling a monstrous fight, the last request these patients have is to finally be at peace, and this is possible by participating in voluntary, active or passive, euthanasia. Although America loves to play the good guy, religious beliefs should not be a reason preventing voluntary euthanasia from becoming legal. There are understanding viewpoints from each direction when it comes to the discussion of euthanasia. T
he realization that it should always be the patient’s choice should overpower negative connotations regarding voluntary euthanasia. Eighty five percent of people support voluntary euthanasia, but the only thing preventing it from being legal is the fact that the government does not support it. (Exit International) It’s our life. It should be our choice.
Boyd, Andrew D. “Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against.” Death with Dignity National Center. 5 Nov. 2005. Web. 14 Mar. 2011.
Homola, Victor. “German Court Liberalizes Rules for Right to Die Cases.” New York Times. 25. June. 2010. Web. 14 Mar. 2011.
Exit International. 14. Mar. 2011.
“Primary Research: Survey on Euthanasia.” Survey. 22 Mar. 2011.
“The Cost of Dying.” 60 Minutes. 22 Nov. 2009. CBS News. Web. 14 Mar. 2011.
Quill, Timothy E. “Dying and Decision Making --- Evolution of End of Life Options.” Death with Dignity National Center. 22 Apr. 2004. Web. 14 Mar. 2011.
Weir, Robert F. Physician Assisted Suicide. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997. Print.