Euthanasia And Living Wills Essay, Research Paper
Euthanasia and Living Wills
Imagine someone you love…better yet, imagine yourself lying in a
hospital bed oblivious to the world around you, unable to move or show any signs
of life, your own existence controlled by an I.V., a respiratory machine, and a
feeding tube. In essence you are dead. Your body is no longer able to sustain
life, its entire purpose is now replaced by a machine – you are being kept alive
by artificial means. At this point the question arises – should you be kept
alive by these means or should you be allowed to die a natural death?
Unfortunately you are unable to answer this question because your voice is
limited to a “beep” on a heart monitor machine. Who then is going to decide if
you live artificially or die naturally? Who gets to play God? Well, if your
family doesn’t have your written consent in the form of a living will, to cease
life support, then the doctor will make the ultimate decision for both you and
Most often this is the case. Even though writing a living will is just
as easy if not easier than writing a death will, many people don’t take the time
to do so. Therefore, doctors have to debate the question of euthanasia – a
question that each one of us should ponder long before we are put in this
What is euthanasia? Euthanasia is not mercy killing. It has absolutely
nothing to do with killing. On the contrary, euthanasia by definition simply
means “good death” and in the applied sense it refers to “the patients own
natural death without prolonging their dying process unduly.” What this
attempts to accomplish is to allow a person to die with peace and dignity. In
most cases life-support systems simply prolong the terminal suffering of a
patient by a few more weeks or months, they do nothing to return a patient to a
normal functioning human being. With most terminally ill patients life support
does not mean prolonging life – it means prolonging suffering, for both the
patient and their family.
Although there are no statutes legalizing euthanasia in the U.S. many
doctors end a terminal patients life by administering a fatal dose of a drug
that they were previously administering. Furthermore, most hospitals knowing
that there is little or no hope for a terminal patient, provide less than
adequate attention and care to them.
A living will makes the possibility of this entire situation virtually
non-existent. A living will is the patient’s written request not the doctor’s
decision, not to be placed on life-support systems, and this request must be
honored by the doctor. Just as property is proportionated to those named in a
person’s death will, so must their requests be recognized in a living will.
If a person has a living will written then if it is so stated, they will
not be placed on life-support. Instead, they will either stay in the hospital
or be sent home so that their body will be allowed to take the natural course it
has begun. If a body, nature, God, or who-be-it, has decided that it is a
person’s “time” then who are we to say that it isn’t? Obviously, we are in
neither a spiritual nor a moral position to make this decision. Therefore, we
should not implement artificial life-support methods to either prevent or delay
the body’s natural degenerative process. Instead, we should face and overcome
our own fears and internal conflicts with death. And one way to do this is by
writing a living will.
Living wills help medical staff and others to make decisions about your
care and treatment should you become seriously ill and unable to speak for
yourself. In some circumstances, living wills may become legally binding on
health care staff. Living wills are considered clear and convincing evidence of
a person’s preferences for end-of-life treatment (see attached forms).
From the advent of medicine the ultimate goal for physicians was to
maintain life. The death of a patient became a sign of a physician’s defeat,
the prolonging of life a sign of his or her ability. Although this philosophy
still continues new variables were added to the equation in the 1960s.
During this decade modern technology began to produce machines such a
lung and heart machines capable of taking over normal body functions for long
periods of time. These machines were intended for temporary use until the
normal organ function could be restored and the patient could return to normal
life. But the machines also created two problems.
First, because prolonging life became an end in itself, some physicians
employed these machines even in situations in which there was no hope of the
patient ever returning to a meaningful life.
Second, even those physicians who avoided unwarranted use of the
machines found that emergency circumstances often required the immediate use of
such machines when the doctors were unable to determine the potential for a
return to meaningful life. When time proved the patient would not get better,
the machines, already in use, were difficult to disconnect.
The case the brought attention to the need for Living Wills occurred in
1976. Karen Quinlan, a young woman whose brain had been severely injured
leaving her in a coma, had been maintained on an artificial respirator for one
year. Her parents asked a judge of the New Jersey court to allow them to order
her respirator removed.
Amid media headlines and passionate debate across the country, the New
Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Karen Quinlan was unable to comprehend her
situation or have a voice in the decision. The court allowed her parents, as
her closest living relatives, to make the decision for her. Thus began the
evolution of the modern legal concept of the right of self-determination in
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though most of us try to avoid the fact that we are going to die,
it is an inevitable fact and we must all plan for the future abidingly.
Therefore, each and everyone of us should seriously consider writing a living
will. By doing so you will minimize both the financial and the mental pain and
suffering both you and your families may encounter. Furthermore, you will ensure
that you and not your doctor makes the most important decision of your life -
whether or not to die. Unfortunately, death is a part of life and just as we
strive to live with honor, we must also strive to die with dignity.