Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
Few issues in medical ethics are as highly debated as death and euthanasia. The topic raises questions including who has the right to take a life and under what circumstances they may do so. Furthermore, it examines under what conditions a person is perceived as being dead or as having no quality of life left. Since the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, medical topics have rarely remained as controversial as euthanasia. From the Hippocratic Oath to the most recent of journal entries, the opinions on this matter are many and conflicting. This essay will examine the literature of this topic when divided into three distinct views: opposed to all types of euthanasia, supportive of passive euthanasia only, and supportive of active euthanasia.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. This excerpt from the Hippocratic Oath embodies the beliefs of groups opposed to all forms of euthanasia. Much literature of this school of thought is from religious groups. Paul Carrick, an opponent of all types of euthanasia, wrote Medical Ethics in Antiquity. Carrick believes that since it is God who gives us life, it should be only God that takes it away. It is God s right to end life by natural means (Carrick 93). The Biblical statements, Thou shalt not kill and He who kills a man shall be put to death have guided the views of our civilization for thousands of years. Others believe that the practice of euthanasia goes against the physician s moral responsibility. Doctors heal the sick they are to do no harm and are otherwise grossly mislead (Carrick 95). Another key issue is whether assisted suicide is necessary or just a lazy form of medicine (Jamison 27). Although death is the ultimate end point in the care of all terminal patients, the emphases should not be on providing them with the means of suicide but on ensuring high-quality comfort care wherever possible (27). Finally, a prevalent argument is that were euthanasia to become legal, the practice may be carried out to extents unintended by those who support the cause. If mercy killing were to become legal, the liberties that would be taken with this right are unimaginable (Carrick 104).
Negative euthanasia is the removal of essential life support to hasten death. This can be the removal of a respirator, the failure to perform CPR or the withholding of medicine essential for life. Robert H. Williams, author of To Live And To Die: When, Why and How is a vocal advocate of negative euthanasia. While we make a great effort to consider the wishes of the patient in many situations, when it comes to euthanasia we do little to learn their wishes or accommodate them (Williams 91). A vast number of patients, as well as their families and friends, experience far more physical and mental suffering than they should (91). The main issue with negative euthanasia is the definition of life, and what bodily functions constitute living. Williams argues that life lies within the mental state of the patient, not the physical body and the machines sustaining it. Many patients lead a vegetative existence for months or years; heart-lung perfusion and other subsidiary functions continue, but the prime function, mentation, has gone (92). In his book Assisted Suicide A Decision-Making Guide for Health Professionals, Stephen Jamison notes that the Hippocratic Oath is contradictory. The Hippocratic Oath stresses the importance of relieving suffering and protecting life (Jamison 79). Furthermore, he notes that the compassionate friend or relative of a suffering patient may perform active euthanasia and, fearing the consequences, commit suicide, resulting in two deaths rather than only one. Linda Emanuel, author of Regulating How We Die The Ethical, Medical, and Legal Issues surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide, questions the extent to which critics of euthanasia hold to their case. If it is God and not the hand of man which must dictate how we live and die, can we not practice life-saving surgery? Of course we can to do otherwise would be negligent (Emanuel, 68). She then argues that to prolong life when a patient is in a chronic vegetative state should amount to cruel and unusual punishment (Emanuel, 119).
Positive euthanasia is the institution of therapy that it is hoped will promote death sooner than otherwise. A vocal advocate of this practice is Thomas Garrett, who co-authored a book called Health Care Ethics Principles and Problems with Harold Baillie and Rosellen Garrett. Although there is ethically a presumptive obligation against cooperating by supplying the means of death, we recognize the fact that there are cases where neither healing nor comforting are possible. Indeed, in these cases the refusal to actively participate may be equivalent to dooming the patient to useless agony (Garrett, Baillie and Garrett 122-123). The thesis of Health Care Ethics is a rhetorical question If it is permissible to let some patients die, why is it not permissible to help the patient die? (Garrett, Baillie, and Garrett 123). The mere fact that in some instances there is a remote possibility of recovery does not justify so much suffering by so many people (Williams 92). Williams later responds to the argument that, once started, euthanasia would be practiced excessively. While there would be many difficult decisions, fear of them does not justify the mental and physical suffering resulting from our failure to act (Williams 95). Williams believes that after appropriate changes are made in the laws surrounding this issue, committees should deal with cases on an individual basis to avoid exploitation of the new legislation.
Physicians and patients generally agree that doctors should work in the best interests of their patients and do no harm . Whether this harm is derived by the ending of a person s life or by the prolonging of their suffering is the key issue within this debate. Though the literature on euthanasia is plentiful and diverse, there are no clear answers within it. Since this is such a powerful subject that is so important to humanity, it is certain that many more diverse opinions on this matter will emerge in the years to come.