At some point in our lives we will all depart this fine world, but do we have to suffer until that day comes? Unfortunately a vast majority of our society believes it’s wrong to consider euthanasia an option. Throughout history we have fought for the freedom of choice, like abortion, the right for woman to vote, and the right for gays and lesbians to marry, just to name a few examples. Euthanasia should be considered a pro-choice decision, as long as physicians have guidelines that they must follow. Euthanasia may not be right for everyone, based on their religious beliefs, cultural background, or their upbringing. That does not necessarily mean that euthanasia is wrong for everyone.
The word Euthanasia originated from the Greek language: Eu means “good” and Thanatos means “death”. The definition that the Netherlands State Commission uses is “the intentional termination of life by another, at the explicit request of the person who seeks death as a last resort”(NSC). That is, the term euthanasia usually implies, nevertheless the person who wishes to end their lives due to great agony must initiate the act. However, many people define euthanasia to include both voluntary and involuntary termination of life. Like so many other terms in our language euthanasia has many meanings. The result is mass confusion among our society.
Presently there are four complicated categories that represent euthanasia. The first, is voluntary euthanasia-in, which a patient voluntarily brings about his or her own death with the assistances of a person-, typically a physician (Encarta). In this incident, the act is considered suicide (intentional self-inflicted death). The patient actually consents to his or her own death either verbally or through a living will. In the case of Don “Dax” Cowart, he verbally consented to his own death, but the physicians and his family denied him the “right to die”. It was considered ethically wrong in their eyes. In their opinion they saw it as they could save young man’s life. They saved his life, but his quality of life will never be the same. As the year went by he endured excruciatingly treatments, which did not fully heal him. Don not only lost his sight, but all mobility in his hands. His healing process took more than a year; in fact it took six prolonged and agonizing years. Not to mend the physical scars, but the mental ones that followed his ordeal. Many people argue that voluntary euthanasia is “playing god”. Then we should also consider that every time a doctor brings a patient back to life, he is “playing god” in a medical way.
The second type is involuntary euthanasia: This term is considered to be murder, for the fact that the patient is unable to give a written or verbal consent (Encarta). There are many cases, of people that are involved in some type of accident, where the patient is considered brain dead or comatose. Numerous states have established a definition of brain death-the point when certain parts of the brain cease to function in a normal way-this is the time when it is legal to shut down a patient’s life-support system, with the consent of the patient’s relatives. However, there is an escalating problem among our Nation’s Health Service program, which provides health care at no cost for individuals who are unable to afford some type of health insurance (NHS). According to Dr. Rita Pal, doctors have allowed many elderly patients to die, and may have hastened their deaths, as a means of easing the resource crisis within the NHS (Pal). In the graphic below are some common ways that a person’s life maybe hastened
Withdraw TreatmentMedication Stopped. Active management stopped
Withdraw NutritionNo feeding decreased nursing support, no intravenous access.
Use of Diamorphine for “pain”. Can be written as PRN (as often as you like)This drug is indicated in the end stage of cancer patients and for relief of heart attack pain. It is also a common drug given to the elderly, which may, in some cases, shorten life. You must check and question why diamorphine is being given and whether your relative is truly “in pain”.
DehydrationDeath due to kidney failure
Cocktail of drugsIt is very common for doctors to place elderly patients with multiple problems on many drugs. Drugs for heart failure, particularly, may not be monitored. If levels of ions in the blood are not regularly measured, this can be dangerous. A common ion is potassium, the levels of which are 3.5-5.5 mmol/l. Levels above this, eg7 mmol/l, may cause death.
Dr. Rita Pal does support involuntary euthanasia in some situations, where further treatment will no longer benefit the patient. If euthanasia is legalized throughout the United States, involuntary euthanasia will have to have very strict guide lines, so that innocent people do not loose their lives, due to lack of money or that they have become a burden on society.
Active euthanasia also known as physician assisted suicide: involves painlessly putting individuals to death by administering some type of lethal dose of medication (Encarta). Active euthanasia is done at the patient’s request. This has caused a widespread debate, for many decades. In the sixteenth century, philosophers began to challenge religious beliefs on suicide. Michel de Motaigne, a sixteenth-century philosopher, argued that suicide was not a question of Christian belief but a matter of personal choice (Aquinas). There are many religions that condemn active euthanasia! The Islamic Center of Southern California states that “Since we did not create ourselves, we do not own our bodies…Attempting to kill oneself is a crime in Islam as well as a grave sin. The Qur’an says: ‘Do not kill (or destroy) yourselves, for verily Allah has been to you most Merciful.’ (Quran 4:29)…The concept of life not worthy of living does not exist in Islam”(ICSC). While there are religious organizations that express disapproval of euthanasia, I found some that support euthanasia and active euthanasia. The United Church of Christ and the Methodist Church have made pro-choice statements on the US West Coast (Charlesworth). The “Anglican Unitarian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Quaker movements are by far the most liberal, by allowing the patient to make the decision for active euthanasia” (Religion). Though active euthanasia is gaining acceptance from many religious organizations, it is not legally practiced in the US, expect in Oregon.
Passive euthanasia means: to hastening the death of a patient by withdrawing all means of medical support, which allows the body to naturally die on it’s own. Passive euthanasia may sometimes be confused with voluntary euthanasia, for the reason that it is usually expressed in some type of living will. The most common form of passive euthanasia is to give the patient large doses of morphine to control pain, which usually suppress respiration and causes the patients death much earlier. Typically these procedures are performed on terminally ill, so that natural death will occur sooner and their suffering may end (New England). It is also performed on individuals who are in a Persistent Vegetation State-individuals with massive brain damage who are in a coma form which they will not regain consciousness. This form of euthanasia seems to be more accepted among our society.
The graph shown below shows the suicide rate among our society. The rate is higher among the elderly, due to debilitating effects of physical illness, loss of social roles and untreated depression. We must be willing to give the elderly a choice in how they may die, so they do not become another statistic in our society.
As we can see there are various meanings of euthanasia, which gives a dying patient an option for how they will depart our world. Some people may not agree with euthanasia at all and I am not trying to change their beliefs. But, for the ones that do support euthanasia, myself included; we should be able to decide how we will depart this world. This is not a right or wrong decision; it should be considered a pro-choice decision. However, if and when euthanasia is legalized, the government will have to implement very strict laws, so physicians do not abuse euthanasia.
Aquinas, Thomas “Suicide and Early Christian Values” In Suicide and Euthanasia, ed. Broody 142-44 T.L. Beachamp.
Charlesworth, Max “Bioethics in a Liberal Society”, Cambridge Univ. Press, Oakleigh, (1993)
“Definition of Active Euthanasia” Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation.
“Definition of Euthanasia” Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation
“Definition of Involuntary Euthanasia” Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation.
“Definition of Voluntary Euthanasia” Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation.
“Definition of Passive Euthanasia” Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation
“Euthanasia” Southern California Islamic Society [Online] at: http://www.islamctr.org/
“Involuntary Euthanasia” [Graphic] the Pharmaceutical Press [Online] at: http://www.euthanasia. org/
“Definition of Euthanasia” Netherlands State Commission on Euthanasia. [Online] at:
Pal, Dr. Pal “Involuntary Euthanasia [Online] at: http://www.euthanasia. org/religion.html
“Passive Euthanasia” New England Journal of Medicine [Article] 1998-April-23
“Religion and the Right to Die” [Online] at: http://www.euthanasia.org/religion.html
“Suicide Rates in the United States” Graphic Microsoft ® Encarta 2000 © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation.