Euthanasia, formerly know as “mercy killing,” means intentionally making someone die, rather than allowing them to die naturally. In an online article by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force says that euthanasia means killing in the name of compassion. Euthanasia is one of the most important public policy issues being debated today. The outcome of that debate will profoundly affect family relationships, interaction between doctors and patients, and concepts of basic morality (Euthanasia: Answers). Some cases exist in which euthanasia should be allowed, when done under the guidance of a medical doctor.
Euthanasia has become an issue of increasing attention because of Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicides. Because of an increasing number of assisted suicides in Michigan, Gov. Engler signed an anti-assisted suicide law in September of 1998 that made doctor-assisted suicides a felony. This law places anyone assisting in a suicide to prison sentence of up to five years and/or fined up to $10,000 (Michigan Governor). By signing this, Gov. Engler has put a great deal of stress onto some patients who wish to take their lives this way but now have no way of doing it.
With the passing of this law many people thought that most of the population would be against the right-to-die, not so. In a survey that I conducted on the campus of Marshall University on Oct. 22, 1999, 80% of the students that I interviewed think sometimes there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die, compared to only 15% think doctors and nurses should always do everything possible to save a person’s life. It also showed that 80% of these students approve of state laws that allow medical care for the terminally ill to be removed or withheld, if the patient “wishes,” whereas only 13% disapproved of the laws. Also 70% think the family should be allowed to make the decision about treatment on behalf of the patient if they are unable to. 70% think it is justified at least sometimes for a person to kill his or her spouse, if he or she is suffering terrible pain caused by a terminal illness. Even suicide is starting to be accepted. About half of those with living parents think their mothers and fathers would want medical treatment stopped if they were suffering a great deal of pain in a terminal disease or if they became totally dependant on a family member (Survey on Euthanasia). There are some people in this society that feel as if this really isn’t a problem, but more of a solution. If someone wants to end their own life, then who are we to stop them. With the continuous coverage of Dr. Kevorkian the views of people will continue to change. Euthanasia will continue to become more of an issue.
As with any issue, each viewpoint is supported by many reasons. In Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, different writers give forth reasons for both sides of this argument. Those who oppose euthanasia argue that the medical profession must always be on the side of “preserving life”(24). Another reason is euthanasia will lead to the “devaluation of life” (37). Also they think it will force doctors and family members to “judge the value of a patient’s life”. Critics also say that acceptance will spread from the terminally ill to the less serious ill, the handicapped, or the mentally retarded (117). One reason that those who favor euthanasia agree upon is that a person has the right to a death with dignity. Another reason is a person should be allowed a “natural death” instead of a prolonged death with medical equipment. Still another reason is that doctors are supposed to ease the pain of people not prolong it (19).
Death is one of the few things that all people have in common. This means that there is a chance for anyone to face the decision of letting someone go. Euthanasia should be legalized so people will only have to think about the difficult decision of the present and not about the consequences of the future.
One of the bases people for euthanasia give is, a person has the right to die with dignity. People should be allowed to control their own deaths. Why should a patient be forced to live if they think their present standard of life has “degenerated to the point of meaningless”, when doctors can no longer help, and perhaps the pain has become unbearable? At this point, if the person is of sound mind, they should have the choice to continue on or to peacefully die, even if they need assistance in doing so (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 153).
If the person is not able to make this decision there should be a few options, a living will, the family’s choice, and the doctor’s choice. A living will should be allowed to control the outcome if the person is unable to. If there is no living will the family, consulting with a qualified physician, should be allowed to decide for the patient. The one situation that is most controversial is a patient with no family or no family member qualified to make the decision. Some think the doctor should be able to make the decision for the patient.
The doctor should be allowed to decide if the patient has reached the point of only getting worse and in considerable pain. In any of these situations a doctor should be at least an advisor, they are the ones with the medical knowledge, and know the present condition of the patient and the alternatives. “In any humane or humanistic view of what is good, it is morally wrong to compel hopelessly suffering or irreversible debilitated patients to stay alive when death is freely elected” (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 151).
In some cases, like terminal illness, “death is often better than dying”, mainly due to the way that the person will die. They may have to go thorough a long period of pain and suffering. Ask yourself which you would choose, early or prolonged death (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 153). Even if one does not think that they are ending the life of themselves or another, personal views decide that it is not the right thing for another to do. Does any person have the right to control the choices of others?
Another argument is that nothing should be done to preserve a life. The advances of technology have disturbed the natural balance of life and death. No longer does a person die when they are supposed to; life-support now prevents that. Opponents say doctors should not play God by killing patients, but do they realize that by prolonging death the medical profession is doing exactly that? Christian Barnard, at the World Euthanasia Conference, was quoted as saying, “I believe often that death is good medical treatment because it can achieve what all the medical advances and technology cannot achieve today and that is stop the suffering of the patient” (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 21).
A different version of the same argument is that doctors are not always responsible to do everything they can to save someone. If a doctor’s duty is to ease the pain of his patients, then why should this exclude the possibility of letting them die? If a patient has a terminal illness and is in great pain and the patient thinks they would rather die now than continue living with the pain, the doctor should be allowed to help. What about a person who is in a vegetative state for a prolonged period of time with no hope of recovery? Should the doctor do everything? Howard Caplan gives an example of this.
“I have a man on my census in his early 40s, left an aphasic triplegic by a motorcycle accident when he was 19. For nearly a quarter of a century, while most of us were working, raising children, reading, and otherwise going about our lives, he’s been vegetating. His biographical life ended with the crash. He can only articulate – only make sounds to convey that he’s hungry or wet. If he were to become acutely ill, I would prefer not to try saving him. I’d want to let pneumonia end it for him” (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 92).
Many believe that a doctor should do what he can up to a point. If a person is at the point where death is a blessing a doctor should not be forced to save a person if they go into cardiac arrest. Also it might be the patients decision for nothing to be done, in this case the doctor should do as instructed.
Is euthanasia unethical? That is what the opposition argues. They preach that doctors too often play God on the operating tables and in the recovery rooms and doctors must always be on the side of life (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 24). They say, “Life is to be preserved and suffering was to be alleviated”, but in fact the American Medical Association said, “Physicians dedicate their lives to the alleviation of suffering, to the enhancement and prolongation of life, and the destinies of humanity”. They clearly state the “alleviation of suffering” before “the enhancement and prolongation of life”. So if the reduction of pain would mean letting the person pass on, why would that be wrong and unethical? They also claim euthanasia is a “breach of the laws of humanity”, what about the laws of nature? These laws were established long before mankind. Humanity breached the laws of nature, long before the “laws of humanity” were broken, with advances like respirators. People are the ones upsetting the balance of nature when they try to keep persons alive who are supposed to die. The planet has survived for a long time without the laws of humanity, so what makes them right? (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 26)
Opponents also claim that euthanasia is against God, therefore it is unethical. Yet passive euthanasia, or refraining from doing anything to keep the patient alive, has been in practice since four centuries before Christ; and in the centuries that followed neither the Christians nor the Jews significantly changed this basic idea. It was killing they were opposed to. Also in 1958 Pope Pius XII emphasized that we may ‘allow the patient who is virtually already dead to pass away in peace’ (Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 43). How can anybody say mercy is against God? It would seem that God would want people to die in peace and without pain. If anything is against God it is trying to live longer than God had intended you to.
In some other parts of the world, euthanasia is viewed differently than here in the United States. In August of 1999, the Dutch government published plans to make euthanasia legal under some very strict guidelines. This plan would allow children as young as 12 to demand and receive the act of a “mercy killing.” Though these plans are not expected to receive parliamentary approval until 2000, the Netherlands is the first country to make strides at legalizing euthanasia (Dutch Government To).
The United States was founded because people wanted to be free. Americans have fought for freedom ever since. If euthanasia is made illegal it will take away one of the founding freedoms, the freedom of choice, the freedom for a person to choose a death with dignity and free of pain and suffering for themselves and their families.
Survey on Euthanasia.
Ages range from 18 to 23
All students at Marshall University
I asked these questions of every person:
1. Do you feel that there are certain circumstances in which doctors and nurses should not try to save one’s life when they are dying?
80 students15 students5 students
2. Should there be any state laws that allow for medical care for the terminally ill to be removed or withheld if the patient wishes?
80 students13 students7 students
3. Should the family of a terminally ill patient be able to make the decision of if the patient is unable to?
70 students19 students11 students
4. Do you think that it is okay for a spouse to kill their significant other if they are in great pain from a terminally illness?
70 students12 students18 students
5. Are both of your parents living?
78 students22 students
6. Would you stop the treatment of one or both your parents if the were suffering form a severe illness and became totally dependent on another family member?
38 students24 students16 students
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