The issue on whether or not assisted suicide should be legalised has been posted in every generation. For many years, people all over the world debate over this sensitive issue that involves choosing between one’s moral aberration or just mere practicality when face over life’s desperate situation, that is, choosing between granting life or ending the pain. Assisted suicide also called “Mercy Killing” or in a more technical term “Euthanasia”, is described as the act of painlessly putting an end to one’s suffering through death.
Surprisingly, in some countries, the act of ending one’s life through mercy killing is an acceptable practice, in fact they have their guidelines in effecting the same. However, despite the claimed advantages in practicing mercy killing, there are still some countries, which refused to accept the same. Thus, the debate continues.
Assisted Suicide: Should it be legalized?
The issue on the “legality” or “illegality” of assisted suicide is perhaps, as old as humanity.
Generations are constantly dragged into debates on this kind maybe because of the practicality it presents to an ailing person and to his family, or maybe because advocates of pro-life continues to treasure the “right” to a life and therefore sees the act as a mere temporary, non-reversible solution to a “shallow and temporary” problem. This paper will tackle sides, the pro’s and con’s on the issue of assisted suicides and how the present generation accept the concept of ending one person’s right to life.
Assisted Suicides, also called Mercy Killing or Euthanasia, in its most raw definition simply means putting an end painlessly to one’s life. The technical term for assisted suicides or mercy killing is Euthanasia. Euthanasia is a word that comes from the Greek Language “eu” which means “good” and “thanatos” which means death (Webster New World Medical Dictionary, 2003, p. 415). Thus, the term is taken from the Greek word for “easy death” (Dowbiggin, 2003, p. xi). However, the Netherlands State Commission on Euthanasia gave the first legal meaning to it where it describe the same as “the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies” (Bioethics, 1987, p.163-174). Due to the debates and controversies surrounding the issue, the term, as well as the practice, is not universally accepted. In fact, most countries around the globe do not have legal provisions for the practice. Hence, the practice is regarded as suicide if the act is performed by the patient himself or just under the crime of murder if it is performed by another.
Though the term merely implies a request from an ailing or dying individual, euthanasia has different types, to wit: 1) passive euthanasia, 2) active euthanasia, 3) physician-assisted euthanasia, and 4) involuntary euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is the most common as it take in the most common form like stopping medications, taking the life support off, or just by simply not giving food and just letting the person die naturally. Active euthanasia, on the other hand is the process of causing death to a person as a result of the request of the dying person. Physician-Assisted euthanasia, as the term implies, is a process of causing death to a patient by a physician who will give medications that is detrimental to the state of the ailing person. Martin Levin made use of the term “to kevork” to describe this process. The term that is suggested by Levin is derived from the name of Dr. Kevorkian, who has promoted and assisted deaths to hundred of patients (1996, p.D5). Lastly, involuntary euthanasia, the most commonly done to patients who are in persistent vegetative state, is the process of administering death to a person who has not expressly requested to die. The people around him assumed that terminating the patient’s life is the most convenient way of helping him from his suffering.
Indeed, there are a lot of ways in assisting a person die, but no matter how many ways this process can be done, there are still groups existing in all parts of the world that are either for or against it depending on their principles and morals.
The most common stand, as of date, to the issue on euthanasia is to be against it. Religious group even have movements against it, some physicians also, who are a guided by their professional code of ethics to which essentially gives more weight to life than any other things, are against the administration of death to ailing patients. However, these people, no matter how generous their number, are in just one side of the coin.
Majority of the group of people who are against euthanasia are religious organizations, particularly the Roman Catholics. The reason may be quite obvious, the Roman Catholics has been a pro-life ever since. Their love for life is quite reflective to the teachings their forefathers passed on to them. Thus, as far as euthanasia is concern, Catholics condemn it and sees it as a murder and therefore considered as a mortal sin. The main reason for this kind of philosophy is that thought that God is ultimate creator of all things on earth; that He has a plan and a purpose in everything that is happening to a human, including undergoing the pain being sick. Therefore, religious morality proceeds directly from a person’s view of his relation to his ultimate and one Creator and the kind of obligation the said relationship imposed including the kind of character and obedience that he is bound to accept as his Creator’s will. The arguments against assisted suicides or mercy killings are basically found in the text of the bible. In the New Testament, the Biblical commandment “Thou shall not kill” is prominently seen in the following verses, to wit: Matthew 5:21, 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20 and Romans 13:9. Thus, Catholics and other religious institutions and groups regarded the legalization of mercy killing or assisted suicides by physicians or euthanasia as a “Pandora’s Box” of evils about to be thrust upon society to which Christians must actively oppose to. For them the legalization of the said procedure, practice will introduce a norm that is against the prominent teaching of the church, that is, to give importance and to take good care of the life that is basically not ours.
Other religious group such as the Buddhist also fights against the legalization of this process, inasmuch as, like Roman Catholics, they see life as a temple of the spirits that are bound to be born again and again.
The Physicians that are against mercy killing:
Reasons for taking the “NO” side
Physicians all over the world are faced with the same dilemma: Whether to grant or not to grant the request of a long-time ailing patient to end his suffering. Leon R. Kass, in his article “Neither for Love Nor Money: Why Doctors Must Not Kill,” expresses his belief that mercy killing or assisting suicide by physicians cannot be maintained nor be tolerated. He thinks that legalizing physician assisted suicide will damage any doctor-patient relationship. He indicates that neither autonomy nor the patient’s freedom, are the ethical principles restraining physician’s power but it is the power of human life itself. Thus, Kass writes that if doctors become technical assistants in dispensing death, they ignore their patients and their vowed duty to care about life – The primary reason for continuing their medical profession. (Public Interest, 1989, p. 25-46). Hence, to this group, life is something very precious that it should transcend mere sickness and the request to end it. For them mercy killing or euthanasia could and should not be legalized in any generation. As one author puts it, there is a great difference between having a life and merely being alive in the same way as there is no moral difference between letting a patient die and killing the patient (James, 1986, p. 204).
Only few countries all over the world stood on their belief that assisted-suicides, mercy killings and/or euthanasia is a good process of assisting to one’s wish. The first country which ever created a law on assisted suicides or euthanasia is the Netherlands. The Dutch Republic on November 28, 2000 legalizes the practice of euthanasia. They approved a bill that will allow physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients or those that are undergoing sickness that do not have any cure or those that are suffering unbearable pain. Since mercy-killing or assisted-suicides are age-old issues, scholars like Michel de Montaigne, a European writer also took his stand on the issue of physician-assisted suicide. In his “A Defense of Legal Suicide” (1580), he wrote: “Death is a remedy against all evils: It is the most assured haven, never to be feared, and often to be sought: All comes to one period, whether man makes an end of himself, or whether he endure it; whether he run before his day, or whether he expect it: whence so ever it come, it is ever his own, where ever the thread be broken, it is all there, it’s the end of the web. The voluntariest death is the fairest. Life dependeth on the will of others, death on ours” (Screech’s translation, 1987, p. 1284)
The Physicians that are pro mercy-killing:
Reasons for taking the “YES” side.
Physicians who can be describes as, are more or less, modern and liberated doctors of the present time take the pro mercy-killing side. For them, giving aid to one’s death is not a big issue that needs to be battled on upon as it is but one way of providing a way to relieve a person from extreme and excruciating pain. In such way, they some how feel that they are serving their purpose as a medical practitioners, a person who on the last analysis are those whose objects and purpose are to alleviate a person’s pain. Furthermore, they believe that through this process of assisting a person to his death, he is in a way liberating the person and his family from numerous medical expenses that are possible to obtain because of the hopeless medical condition of the ailing person. This, according to them is the especially true to those who are undergoing unknown sickness with no available cure yet.
In his article “The Range of Euthanasia”, David Thomasma believes that administering death can be seen as an act of kindness for some dying person. He claims that medicine’s purpose in the modern age should be to preserve life as a conditional value to pursue higher and more important values such as love, happiness and the liked. Dr. Van den Berg on the other hand, expresses a more direct stand and view on the subject, thus, he strongly believes that a new code of ethics among the medical practitioner should not be based on age-old Hippocratic Oath. He thinks that physicians must be willing to kill the suffering, deteriorating, dying, or vegetative patient, and asks families and nurses to support such decision made by a physician who merely acts in the patient’s interest (1978, p. 85). Thus, for the pro-euthanasia group, the practice should be legalized because the practice, whether we admit it or not, is already there. You will never know when and where it is happening but the process is already there. Though hiding in the dark and often not admitted, the procedure is nothing but a consequence of modern medicine and attitude towards one’s profession and, in the patient’s case, one’s right or choice to life or even death. For the pro’s if the state will not act on the procedure that is already existing in our society, the procedure which is designed to alleviate a person’s pain and sickness may indeed cause issues linked to killings, murder and the like. Hence, in order that no confusion and irregularity would happen in the practice of assisting-suicide to an ailing person, a law must be passed providing for the guidelines, the rules, and the principles that must be considered in the act of doing the same. After all, a law is “something men create in their best moments to protect themselves in their worst moments” (Buzzard, (1980), p. 49). Thus, through this way, the procedure that already exists in our society will be monitored by the state, it will be regularized by statutes and thus, it will avoid the misusage of the procedure and ultimately, the care to life will be even more highlighted in the end.
Assisting-suicides by physicians or mercy killings or euthanasia is indeed a subject that will go on until ages. Probably because one’s “acceptable” and “not acceptable” ways varies depending on one’s culture, tradition, race and beliefs. One person can say that life is beautiful but such perspective may never be true to an ailing person who just wishes to end the suffering that he is going through.
The cry for a law that will legalize assisted suicides will always be countered by the cry of those who thirst for respect to life. Whether mercy killing or assisted suicides should be legalized is a question that needs to be pondered very carefully. Essentially, in deciding on the question, the primary consideration is that in passing a law for the same, the law should be based on the stand of the majority and should never be dependent on the cry of the few who represents a small group of people driven by just the thirst of having the said kind of law – for the sake of having a law.
Be it remembered that whatever laws or statutes that will be enacted in a state or in a country is but a loud expression of public morality. Thus, considering such proposition, the determination of whether there is a need to enact a law of this kind would indeed, involved a question of whether this practice is reflective of our morals, as according to what our religion and principles dictate, and our needs, temporal or secular, in general.
The author of this research so holds and believes that the stand of the majority to be against it fits the moment. The controversial subject does not only present the question of the existence of law but nevertheless, it involves the continuance of human life itself. It is the considered view of the author that the practice of assisting suicides by physicians, mercy killing and euthanasia, is nonetheless, an irreversible process that will be imbued to the public. Thus, the government in considering the matter must not be driven by mere exigencies but rather a careful consideration of all sides, of all points of view and of all its consequences not only to the present generation but also to those that will come. Considering the stand of the majority the author cannot help but blurt his observation to this generation which like a pep squad cries for one theme, which is “Life indeed, for this generation, is still essential and precious.”
Webster New World Medical Dictionary, 2nd edition (January, 2003).
Dowbiggin, I., (2003). A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America. Oxford University Press.A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America
Final Report of the Netherlands State Commission on Euthanasia: An English Summary. Bioethics 1(2). April 1987. p.163-174.
Martin Levin, (1996). “Verdicts on Verdicts About Easeful Death”, the Globe and Mail, Toronto, 1996-AUG-10, Page D5.
Kass, Leon R.,(1989). Neither for Love Nor Money: Why Doctors Must Not Kill.
Public Interest 94: 25-46, Winter 1989.
Montaigne, Michel de. (1987). The Complete Essays. Trans. M. A. Screech. London:
Penguin, p. 1284
Thomasma, David C. (1988). The Range of Euthanasia. Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, 73(8): p 4-13.
Rachels, James, (1986).The End of Life: EUTHANASIA AND MORALITY.
New York:Oxford University Press, p. 204.
Van den Berg, Jan Hendrik, (1978). Medical Power and Medical Ethics. New York: Norton, p.85.
Buzzard, L. and Ericsson, S., (1980). The Battle for Religious Liberty, p.49.
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