Euthanasia 7 Essay, Research Paper
In this century and especially in the past decade, we have witnessed amazing changes in man’s power over both birth and death. Radical changes have taken place in beliefs and practices pertaining to the beginning and ending of life. Clearly the march of science is shaking the very foundations of our society and will continue to do so even further into the future.
Euthanasia is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “granting painless death to a hopelessly ill patient with a non-curable disease. The word euthanasia is derived from the Greek word “thanatos” meaning death and the prefix “eu” meaning easy or good. From 1976 onward there has been a debate about the morality of disconnecting respirators and feeding tubes that keep thousands of people alive in a persistent vegetative state or coma and medically assisting to end the life of an individual that is hopelessly suffering.
Medical euthanasia is a general term sometimes used to describe euthanasia administered by or authorized by a doctor for the benefit of the individual – to end hopeless suffering or a meaningless existence. It is customary to classify euthanasia into active versus passive.
Active euthanasia means a positive merciful act taken deliberately to end futile suffering or a meaningless existence. It is an act of commission; death is induced either by direct action to terminate life or by indirect action such as in giving drugs in amounts that will clearly hasten death.
Some would limit the use to direct, intentional action to end life, which under present law is murder. If the intent in giving drugs is to hasten death as well as to relieve pain, that too in now a criminal act, though proof of such intent might be difficult to establish. Even if a physician provides the means for a patient to end his own life, it is against the law in most states because he would be aiding a person to commit suicide.
Passive euthanasia means discontinuing or desisting from the use of “extraordinary” life-sustaining measures or “heroic” efforts to prolong life in hopeless cases when such prolongation seems an unwarranted extension of either suffering or unconsciousness. This includes acts of omission such as failure to resuscitate a terminally ill or hopelessly incapacitated patient or a severely defective newborn infant. It is refraining from action that would probably delay death and instead permitting natural death to occur. Since 1990, with the case of Nancy Cruzan, the debate about passive euthanasia, disconnecting life support in cases of people in a hopeless coma appears to have been resolved.
From the beginning of time man has been innovative and creative in finding ways to understand and solve problems pertaining to himself and his environment. It is now time to find a solution to this problem of needless human suffering. Many traditional religious doctrines, superstitions, and rule-of-thumb guides for behavior no longer meet the needs of today. Death must be redefined, our conceptions of life re-examined and our role in controlling our own destiny re-evaluated. Emphasis has shifted away from the quantity of life to its quality; no longer can we attribute any inherent value to longevity-it has been the cause of too much suffering.
The time has come to stop viewing death as necessarily an enemy and to recognize that sometimes it’s a welcome friend. It is time to ask who wants to go on living indefinitely on devices that prolong life artificially, when there is no hope of recovery?
The 1990’s have been a decade of great debate over the issue of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill. The most common arguments against euthanasia are based on ancient religious teachings and unrealistic fears. The strongest argument has been the fear that euthanasia will be abused. Honestly, no law has ever been written that cannot be or has not been abused. A country that can send men to the moon and bring them back safely are capable of writing a good euthanasia law it they so desire.
When active voluntary euthanasia becomes lawful, it is not something every
dying person will want or need. In any case, just because there may be someone who would not want active euthanasia for themselves no matter how hopeless their condition, that is no reason to deny to others the right to choose euthanasia when life is no longer valuable. Getting legal help with a dying process unbearable to the patient will be a comfort to a good many sufferers, and will relieve prosecution worries for those physicians who today perform the act covertly.
Legalizing the right to choose will have two additional benefits. First, it will provide comforting assurance to those who would want this right in the future if they were suffering. Thousands have stored or wish to store lethal amounts of drugs because they fear a bad death. Second, legalization will lengthen the life for many. There are numerous suicides that end their lives early because they fear the loss of control later on.
Compassion, plain common sense and the right to die with dignity should be recognized as a basic human right.
Almost unquestionably the time will come when euthanasia will be accepted practice. We will wonder how society could have continued so long with its cruel customs in dealing with hopeless human suffering. To an incurably ill patient who wants to die as soon as possible the subject is not one to be either brushed aside or endlessly debated. It is one of great urgency. Fortunately, there is increasing concern on the part of clergymen, physicians, nurses, lawyers and the public, especially the elderly. Under present law doctors are faced with the dilemma of having to choose between allowing prolonged suffering or mercifully granting a request for death in violation of criminal law. There should be no such dilemma. A reasonable and humane society should not encourage covert action by doctors in order for them to grant a terminally ill person’s plea; instead it should enact laws that would safeguard both the individual’s right to live and his right to die.