A Case For Active Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
A Case for Active Euthanasia
You hope the day never comes. Your spouse has been in ICU for three weeks, and the doctor has told you there is severe irreversible brain damage. The family is called for a meeting with the doctor to make a very hard decision. All options are addressed. The decision is made to remove all IV’s, feeding tubes, and the ventilator. Weepy and grief-stricken, you sign a consent form, and sit by the bed for a day or two as your spouse passes away peacefully.
This is not what really happens. Removing food and water from someone in a hopeless situation is not putting them out of their misery. Instead it’s putting them into misery, the misery of dying in an excruciating manner. Dying this way could not possibly be considered a peaceful death. It can take five to twenty-one days for someone to die of dehydration after the IV’s and feeding tubes are removed. In that time, the mouth dries out, the tongue becomes swollen, eyes sink back into their sockets, and the lining of the nose cracks and bleeds. Also, urine becomes concentrated and burns the bladder, the stomach lining dries out which causes vomiting, hypothermia develops, brain cells begin to dry out which causes convulsions, and the respiratory tract dries out causing thick secretions, which can plug the lungs and cause death. There is nothing dignified about this kind of death. To leave someone on life support until their liver, kidneys, and pancreas fail should not be an option either. The active termination of an individual’s life should be considered a positive action when its intention is to relieve irreversible suffering. We need to address the way much of society views passive euthanasia as acceptable and active euthanasia as unacceptable.
Looking not at the religious or moral issues, but of the needs of the patient, active euthanasia should be considered acceptable if the right precautions are taken. The act of active euthanasia ends the harm of an intractable situation. Physicians should be free to practice this type of act if requested by their patient. Assisting a chronically suffering person to die should not be a breach of the principles of the Hippocratic Oath. By practicing active euthanasia, the physician relieves the individual of the pain of his/her condition. It is an act of love. If people see a deer, which had been hit by a car, and is in terrible pain, they will kill it out of pity. The same should be allowed with humans, if pain reaches a level where it is unbearable. For people who do not have the choice of active euthanasia, starvation and dehydration is the only choice.
The responsibility of the medical community is not just to preserve life, but to preserve quality of life. For an individual who is living in constant pain and torment, both physically and psychologically, with no hope for betterment, the desire to end the pain is entirely rational and justified. If the only relief possible is death, then death should be an option. Of course we should not encourage people to take their lives, but I do not feel we have the right to take that option away from them. I believe firmly that people should be allowed to exert autonomy in their own lives, and if someone firmly wishes to die, that person should be allowed to do so in a fashion befitting the ideals of personal dignity and involving the least pain. Of course, if active euthanasia were legalized there would have to be very strict and specific rules governing it. However, the principle itself is, in my view, sound.
The Hemlock society justifies active euthanasia on the following grounds: One is an advanced terminal illness that is causing unbearable suffering to the individual. The other is a grave physical handicap, which is so restricting that the individual cannot, even after due consideration and training, tolerate such a limited existence. The Society also offered guidelines for active euthanasia, the following are a selection: First, the person is a mature adult. Second, the person has clearly made a considerable decision. Third, the self-deliverance has not been made at the first knowledge of the life-threatening illness, and reasonable medical help has been sought. Fourth, the treating physician has been informed, and his or her response has been taken into account. Finally, the person has made a will disposing of his or her worldly possessions (Humphry 97).
The basis for active euthanasia, and its legalization, are the advancements in medical technology, human compassion, and personal autonomy. The advancement of medicine has provided many with an insight into their possible future medical care. “The [physicians] are not trained to let people die-they are taught to use every means available to keep patients alive and they can be caught up in the available technology to the point of forgetting the patient” (Information Plus 19). The fear of being made to live longer than one should is a growing area of concern.
The choice of euthanasia involves many factors and is such a highly complex issue, yet there seems to be an overall understanding of the possible consequences that may follow their choice. Active euthanasia is more humane and acceptable than passive euthanasia. Shortening a life consumed in an extreme amount of pain, by whatever means, is justifiably right. Letting a patient suffer while waiting for death is wrong and is unacceptable. People appear to be adjusting their old ideas to include the new possibilities available in this ever-changing world.
Clement, Mary, Humphry, Derek. Freedom to Die: People, Politics, and the Right-To-Die Movement. New York: St Martins P, 1998.
Information Plus. Death & dying-who decides? ISBN 1-878623-81-8. Texas: Information P. 1994