The origin of the word ‘euthanasia’ comes from the Greek — eu, “good,” and thanatos, “death,” meaning literally, “good death.” But the word “euthanasia” has acquired a more complex meaning in modern times. It is generally taken nowadays to mean doing something about achieving a good death. Suicide, self-deliverance, auto-euthanasia, aid-in-dying, assisted suicide — call it what you like — can be justified by the average supporter of the so-called ‘”right to die” movement. It is advanced terminal illness that is causing unbearable suffering to the individual. This is the most common reason to seek an early end. Grave physical handicap which is so restricting that the individual cannot, even after due consideration, counseling and retraining, tolerate such a limited existence. This is a fairly rare reason for suicide — most impaired people cope remarkably well with their affliction — but there are some who would, at a certain point, rather die. What are the ethical parameters for euthanasia? The person is a mature adult. This is essential. The exact age will depend on the individual but the person should not be a minor who comes under quite different laws. The person has clearly made a considered decision. An individual has the ability nowadays to indicate this with a “Living Will” (which applies only to disconnection of life supports) and can also, in
today’s more open and tolerant climate about such actions, freely discuss the option of euthanasia with health professionals, family, lawyers, etc. My position is that euthanasia should be legalized for the terminally ill.
Because of the increasing number of suicides in Michigan, Gov. John Engler signed an anti-suicide law that made doctor-assisted suicides a felony. During the 21-month trial period of the new law anyone assisting in a suicide can be sentenced to up to four years in prison and fined more than $2,000 (Reuters 1993). In a poll cited in a 1991 issue of USA Today, 80 percent of Americans think sometimes there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die, compared to only 15 percent think doctors and nurses should always do everything possible to save a person’s life. It also showed that 8 in 10 adults approve of state laws that allow medical care for the terminally ill to be removed or withheld, if that is what the patient “wishes,” whereas only 13 percent disapproved of the laws. Also, 70 percent think the family should be allowed to make the decision about treatment on behalf of the patient, while another 5 percent think this is suitable only in some cases (Colasnto 62). Seventy percent 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 the public think a “moral right” to suicide exists if a person has an incurable disease or is suffering great pain with no hope of recovering (Colasnto 63). 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, and 40 percent of their parents would want medical treatment stopped if daily activities became a burden (Colasnto 63).
One reason that just about everyone who favors euthanasia agrees with 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. (Battin 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. People should be allowed to control their own deaths. Why should patients be forced to live if he or she 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 persons of sound mind, he or she should have the choice to continue on or to peacefully die, even if they need assistance in doing so (Larue 153). If the person is not able to make this decision, there should be a few options: a living will and the family’s choice. A doctor should be at least an advisor. They are the ones with the medical knowledge, and know the present condition of the patient. “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” (Larue 151). In some cases, like terminal illness, “death is often better than prolonged suffering,” mainly due to the way that the person will die. They may have to go through a long period of pain and suffering.
No longer do persons die when he or 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” (Battin 21).
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 suppose to die.
The United States was founded because people wanted to be free. Americans have fought for freedom ever since.
As I have mentioned earlier, assistance in suicide is a crime in most places, although the laws are gradually changing, and very few cases ever came before the courts, until Dr. Jack Kevorkian. A great many cases of self-deliverance or assisted suicide, using drugs and/or a plastic bag, go undetected by doctors, especially now that autopsies are the exception rather than the rule (only 10 percent, and only when there is a mystery about the cause of death). Also, if a doctor asked for a death certificate he or she know that the patient was in advanced terminal illness, then he is not going to be too concerned about the precise cause of death. It hardly matters.
But, having considered the logic in favor of auto-euthanasia, the person should also contemplate the arguments against it. First, should the person go instead into a hospice program and receive not only first-class pain management but comfort care and personal attention? Put bluntly, hospices make the best of a bad job, and they do so with great skill and love. The right-to-die movement supports their work. But not everyone wants a lingering death, not everyone wants that form of care. Today many terminally ill people take the marvelous benefits of home hospice programs and still accelerate the end when suffering becomes too much. A few hospice leaders claim that their care is so perfect that there is absolutely no need for anyone to consider euthanasia. Most, but not all, terminal pain can today be controlled with the sophisticated use of drugs, but the point these leaders miss is that personal quality of life is vital to some people. If one’s body has been so destroyed by disease that it is not worth living, that is an intensely individual decision which should not be thwarted. In some cases of the final days in hospice care, when the pain is very serious, the patient is drugged into unconsciousness. If that way is acceptable to the patient, fine. But some people do not wish their final hours to be in that fashion. There should be no conflict between hospice and euthanasia — both are valid options in a caring society. Both are appropriate to different people with differing values.
Even the most determined supporters of euthanasia hang on until the last minute — sometimes too long, and lose control. They, too, gather with their families and friends to
say good-byes. There are important reunions and often farewell parties. Euthanasia supporters enjoy life and love living, and their respect for the sanctity of life is as strong as anybody’s. Yet they are willing, if their dying is distressing to them, to forego a few weeks or a few days at the very end and leave under their own control. Now that we have the knowledge and the drugs, we can negotiate new terms with life concerning our fate. Surely, for those who want it this way, this is commendable and is in fact an extension rather than a curtailment of life. What is needed now are careful laws permitting physician-assisted suicide — voluntary on everybody’s part.
As with any issue, each viewpoint is supported by many reasons. Those who oppose euthanasia argue that the medical profession must always be on the side of “preserving life” (Schofield 24). Another reason is euthanasia will lead to the “devaluation of life” (Low 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. (Russ 117).
The Case for Euthanasia: Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be Legalized? Throughout the twentieth century, major scientific and medical advances have greatly enhanced the life expectancy of the average person. However, there are many instances where doctors can preserve life artificially. In these cases where the patient suffers from a terminal disease or remains in a “persistent vegetative state” or PVS,
from which they cannot voice their wishes for continuation or termination of life, the question becomes whether or not the patients have the freedom to choose whether or not to prolong his or her life even though it may consist of pain and suffering. In answer to this question, proponents of physician-assisted suicide, most notably, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, are of the opinion that not only should patients be able to abstain from treatment, but if they have a terminal and/or extremely painful condition, they should be able to seek out the assistance of a doctor in order to expedite their death with as little pain as possible.
The results on mercy killing surprised me even more. Ask yourself which you would choose, early or prolonged death (Larue 153).
References Battin, M. (1987). Euthanasia: the time is now. In Bernards, N. (Ed). (1989). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc. Bernards, N. (Ed). (1989). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc. Bolander, D. (1987). Instant quotation dictionary. Little Falls: Career Publishing, Inc. Caplan, H. (1987). It’s time we helped patients die. In Bernards, N. (Ed). (1989). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc. Colesanto, D. (1991, May). The right-to-die controversy. USA Today. pp. 62-63. Larue, G. (1988). Euthanasia. In Bernards, N. (Ed). (1989). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. Greenhaven Press, Inc. Low, C. (1988). A deadly serious dilemma: evaluating the right to die. In Bernards, N. (Ed). (1989). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. Greenha