The term Euthanasia has become well known throughout the country. The word is derived from ancient Greek eu thantos, meaning “easy death.” Today, euthanasia is referred to as mercy killing. There is much controversy over whether or not the practice is just. Euthanasia raises many religious, medical, and ethical issues.
Euthanasia can either be active or passive. Active euthanasia occurs when a physician or other medical personnel induces death. An overdose is administered to the patients in the form of insulin, barbiturates, or morphine, and then followed by an injection of curare.
Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, is allowing the patient to die due to lack of treatment. This includes taking the patient off their support system, or respirator. Passive euthanasia also includes stopping the food supply intravenously to comatose patients (Compton’s, 1).
Debate has flourished against those who accept passive euthanasia, but reject active. Questions are asked why one form is accepted and not the other. The distinction that is made between the two of them is that active is murder, while passive is merciful.
Turning off support systems is a positive act of death (Singer, 76).
In the Encyclopedia of Bio-ethics, some religious views of euthanasia were given. Hebraic and Jewish denominations strongly oppose the practice. They believe life is a precious and divine gift, and that it must be sustained if possible. “Death must never be hastened by intention. Physicians who kill patients in order to spare them pain are considered murderers (554-555).” Judaism also rejects euthanasia. They do, however, accept two forms of eu thantos: caring for dying patients, and letting terminally ill persons die. Early Christians opposed self-induced death out of suffering and despair. They also condemn such practices such as infanticide and abortion (556). Roman Catholics permit terminally ill patients to die by forgoing life-sustaining measures. Catholics also allow the refusing “forms of treatment that would secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life (557).” Personal views regarding euthanasia are often influenced by their religious beliefs.
With a controversial topic, such as euthanasia, there are strong opinions accentuated. Euthanasia is strongly affiliated to medical and ethical debate. Opponents and advocates of euthanasia have several significant points regarding their view of the practice.
“Humans have a natural inclination to continue life (Baird, 98).” Opponents believe that euthanasia acts against nature. Like animals, humans fight for survival. It is our goal to protect ourselves from harm and do whatever possible to stay alive. When euthanasia is implicated, it goes against our concept for survival (98-99).
Those against the practice also believe that some might abuse euthanasia and use it for self-interest. The cost to keep a person alive through means of modern technology can be very costly. Families might, despite their love for the patient, consider the money being spent for what may be a hopeless cause (Baird, 97). Opponents argue the possibility of “s pontaneous remission.” In many cases a patient recovers with no explanation. With euthanasia, these miraculous recoveries would not exist because there would be no expectation of them happening. If the patient is put to death then they have lost their right to recovery and life (100).
Another argument regarding abuse is the professional aspect of euthanasia. In the medical profession, doctors are committed to saving lives (Baird, 100). With euthanasia, death is no longer natural; it is a result of a medical decision. Several questions are asked regarding when, why, and under what circumstances medical personnel should implement the practice. Each patient’s case has different factors that make the decision to put him or her to rest difficult (Thomasma, 247-248).
Proponents feel that euthanasia is an admirable concept; however, the request for death from a patient should be evaluated seriously before administered. Advocates feel that it is a patients right to choose whether or not to remain living. The concern about following a patient’s request lies on their psychological state. It must be considered whether the patient is feeling depressed and that is why they want to die, or if it is to relieve the pain. Before euthanasia is implemented the question must be asked if it is in the patients best interest (Battin,120).
The use of “living wills” has become popular in the states in which it is legal. These “advanced directive occupy an important place on the debate about the limits of patient autonomy, the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment and euthanasia (Keown, 297) The “wills” are signed when the presumable patient is in the right state of mind. Two witnesses who are of no relation to the testator and who will not benefit from his or her death must be present at the signing. If a patient has a “will” the doctor must respect and follow the requests exhibited in the will (Eser, 121).
Euthanasia is a controversial topic that raises many religious, medical and ethical issues. View points of opponents and advocates have been debated for many years. There are several quality arguments presented by both those for and against the practice. With the legalization of living wills, everyone has the choice to either have euthanasia practiced on them or to die the natural way.
Baird, Robert M., ed. Euthanasia; The Moral Issues. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989.
Battin, Margaret P., The Least Worst Death; Essays in Bioethics
On the End of Life. Oxford: University Press, 1994.
“Death and Dying: Euthanasia and Sustaining Life.” Encyclopedia of
Eser, Alin, ed. Suicide and Euthanasia. Knoxville: Tennessee University
“Euthanasia.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia Compton’s Home
Library. CD-ROM. 1994-97 ed. Cambridge: Microsoft, 1994.
Keown, John. Euthanasia Examined: ethical, clinical, and legal
Perspectives. Cambridge: University Press, 1995
Singer, Peter. Rethinking Life and Death.New York: St.Martins Press,1994
Thomasma, David C., ed. Birth to Death: Science and Bioethics.
Cambridge: University press, 1996.
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