Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
Because our medical technology has improved so much, we are literally able to postpone death. People suffering from incurable diseases or injuries that would have died are being kept alive on machines. Because of this, people have argued for years over the legality of euthanasia. Some believe people should die with honor and not suffer. Others simply call it assisted suicide. Euthanasia should be an option for patients in extreme medical situations.
The word “euthanasia” simply means an easy or painless death (eu meaning well, thanatos meaning death). Euthanasia was first started by the Greeks and has spread throughout the world (Koop 88). Although the act of euthanasia is quite simple, there are two different types: active and passive. Active euthanasia is when life is ended directly by administering a drug of lethal dose. Passive euthanasia is administered by the withdrawal of life-support devices, medications, and even fluids (Barnard 27). Active euthanasia is illegal and has been debated in the courts while passive is generally left up to the physician and the family.
Many people argue against euthanasia saying that life should be preserved at all costs. Doctors, for example, take an oath to preserve life and ease pain. There are many cases when the doctor of a critically ill patient is requested by the family to stop the medical treatment and let the patient die. The doctor either refuses or delays the act prior to the miraculous recovery of the patient. This example is used frequently by people against euthanasia. It is extremely hard to decide without a doubt that a patient can not recover. If the doctor had acted on the request of the family, then it truly would be murder.
There is also the case in which a terminally ill patient has not relayed his wishes and is incapable of doing so in his condition. It is impossible to make the judgment on what the patient really wants at this point. Is it justified for the family to make the decision to let their loved one live? It is too easy to let other motives influence that type of decision. The family very well could decide on the life of their loved one based on the burden of doctor bills or even the need for the inheritance instead of the well being of their beloved. It is also shown that “80% of relatives preferred to have their terminally ill loved ones die in the hospital, while 80% of dying persons…said they would prefer to die at home” (Barnard 21). The patient wants to spend his last times happily at his home while the family wants the best care at the hospital readily available.
In many cases, some believe when the patient decides for himself to be euthanized that he/she doesn’t really want to die. Patients who are seriously ill can become extremely depressed and say they want to die. Psychologists believe that the patients are no different from “normal” suicidal people but with the addition of their medical problems. Psychologists also have found that when patients talk suicide that they really only want the attention and support of their family (Peck 190). Who is to say that a terminally ill patient is really wanting to be released from his body or that his family has the best intentions at heart when they tell the doctor to “pull the plug?”
According to the Hippocratic Oath, doctors are obligated to preserve life and relieve suffering. Many doctors, however, see a contradiction in these responsibilities. If a person is suffering terribly and has no hope of recovering, should his death still be postponed as long as possible? In many cases, it is impossible to relieve suffering while preserving life. With our medical advances, we can delay death even long after the brain stops functioning. Is it right to use our technology to keep a person alive as long as possible even if he can’t tolerate the anguish? (Trubo 57). Christiaan Barnard tells us that, “The Brain is the organ that determines the quality of life, and the individual dies when his brain dies” (7). He also states that, “We are, in fact, all dying. Some rapidly, some more slowly-nonetheless, we are headed for death” (15).
In the many cases in which euthanasia is argued, the patient would have died long before without medical treatment in the first place. Because of the doctors’ intervention, there is only a person in pain being kept alive by machines. In all of our great medical advances, we have forgotten that people still have to die. It was in our good intentions to postpone their deaths to the last, but we have only put them and their families in pain. We must draw the line and decide that when a patient will not recover, he is in great pain, and he or his families wish it, then the patient must be set free. Euthanasia may seem like a terrible thing, but it goes along with the advances that man has achieved and it must be accepted.
Barnard, Christiaan. Good Life Good Death. New Jersey : Prentice Hall, 1980.
Koop, C. Everett. The Right to Die: The Moral Dilemmas. Tyndale HP, 1976. 88-117. Rpt. in Euthanasia: The moral issues. Ed. R. M. Baird. New York: Prometheus Books, 1989. 69-83.
Peck, M. Scott. Denial of the Soul. New York: Harmony Books, 1997.
Trubo, Richard. An Act of Mercy: Euthanasia Today. Los Angeles: Nash, 1973.