Legalization Of Active Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
The term Euthanasia has become well known throughout the United States.
Euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” and “thantos”, these words come
together to form the phrase “easy death.” Today, euthanasia is referred to by many names
such as mercy killing, and assisted suicide. There is much controversy over whether or
not the practice is right. Euthanasia raises many religious, legal, medical and ethical
issues. The question of euthanasia being right or wrong is one that most would prefer to
leave alone. However the unique cases of euthanasia bring up the consideration of
legalization. Those for euthanasia feel that government should consider legalizing active
euthanasia because, suffering before death is unbearable not only for terminal patients but
for the family members and friends.
Euthanasia can be either passive or active. Active euthanasia is when a physician
or other medical personnel hastens as suffering patient’s death. To carry out this process
an overdose of drugs is introduced to the patient’s system as a form of insulin,
barbiturates, or morphine. Passive euthanasia allows the patient to die due to lack of
treatment. This includes stopping the food supply and taking the patient off life support
systems. This is also known as ‘pulling the plug’ (Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia).
All cultures have strong prohibitions against killing. However cultures and
religions approve of killing in time of war or in defense against a life-threatening attack.
There are sixty-two verses in the Bible calling for killing as punishment for
approximately thirty various forms of disobeying the commandments (Neils, Section
1-Chapter 7). The Fifth Commandment states simply “Thou shalt not kill.”
“Aid-in-dying is not killing. Killing is doing something to someone against their
will to end their living. Physician aid-in-dying is doing something with someone
who requests it to end their life. Murder and killing are done against one’s will.
Physician aid-in-dying is done with the one’s permission. Therefore the words
murder and killing are inappropriate when referring to physician assistance in
dying” (Neil, Section1-Chapter4).
Questions are asked about why one form of euthanasia is preferred over the other.
The difference between active and passive euthanasia is that active euthanasia is legally
murder, while passive euthanasia is ‘merciful killing’. Turning off life support systems is
said to be a positive act of death (Singer, 76). The Encyclopedia of Bio-Ethics states that
Hebraic and Jewish religions strongly oppose the practice of euthanasia in any form.
Both religions believe that life is a very precious and divine gift and that it should be
protected and cherished. “Death must never be hastened by intention. Physicians who
kill patients in order to spare them pain are considered murderers (Encyclopedia of
Bio-Ethics, 554-555).” Although Judaism also rejects euthanasia as a concept, they do
accept mercy killing. This includes letting terminally ill persons die.
Early Christians were against self-induced death to end suffering and despair.
They also despise such practices such as abortion (Encyclopedia of Bio-Ethics,556).
Roman Catholics permit terminally ill patients to die by forgoing life-sustaining
measures. Catholics also allow refusing forms of treatment (Encyclopedia of Bio-Ethics,
When many argue the issue of euthanasia it is common for one to forget who and
what, they really are defending. The ERGO organization states “It is widely believed that
there are only two options open to patients with terminal illness. One can either chose to
die slowly in unrelieved suffering, or receive euthanasia.
In 1999 the Dying Well Network produced an experiment involving physicians in
Spokane, Washington (Neil, Section 2-Chapter 2). Of 197 patients 77 percent wished to
die because they were informed that control of bodily functions will be lost in the future.
Of 119 patients 57 percent sought euthanasia due to being restricted to a bed. 52 percent
of the 108 patients wished to die due to the severe suffering. 35 percent of the 73 patients
wanted to die because of severe pain. 75 percent of 156 patients responded being a
burden to others as being a good reason to die. Being dependent upon other met the
standards of 74 percent of the 154 asked. Seventy two percent of 154 patients said that
the loss of dignity was good enough to receive euthanasia. Experiencing severe
depression was the answer of 55 percent of the 114 patients asked. Note that pain was the
lease often given reason for wanting to be euthanized. Loss of control and dignity, being
a burden and dependent, and being restricted to the bed most of the time are reasons most
often given to wish for a hastened death (Neils, Section 2-Chapter-2).
The debate on physician assisted suicide in Canada and the united States,
continues to focus almost completely on the rights and responsibilities of the two
principals: the patient, and the physician. This raises an important and largely overlooked
question. What are the rights and responsibilities of other healthcare professionals in
physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia? (Hall).” This, in turn, raises a number of
questions of particular relation to pharmacy. Would pharmacists knowingly participate in
ending a patient’s life? If so under what conditions? From an ethical point of view
euthanasia should be legalized. The ERGO organization questioned many pharmacists.
They feel that the right to chose must be safeguarded at all levels of the decision making
process and that the right to chose must be respected. The physician, the pharmacist, the
nurse should have a right to take part or not to take part in assisting a person once he or
she has reached a decision to put an end to one’s life. If the health care personnel choose
not to participate, their duty to the patient requires that they refer to health care
professionals who will assist them. Is physician assisted suicide or euthanasia an
appropriate use of prescription drugs? If euthanasia is legalized what will be done about
the drugs needed to complete the process? In the essay “Living and Dying with Dignity”
Kevin Hall presents ideas on the controlling of drugs needed to assist suicide. “There
should be guidelines about the types of drugs which should be used, dosage and
administration is to be clearly defined. There should be specific courses given about
these drugs and their administration to those who will actively participate in euthanasia
(Hall).” These few points are just a sampling of what would have to be done to keep
euthanasia in the controlling hands of health professionals. Despite the amount of work
to be done, the outcome will benefit many. Family members, and friends would not have
to see their loved ones die a painful death.
Legalization of euthanasia is usually championed by those who have witnessed a
loved one die in unpleasant circumstances, often without the benefits of optimal care.
This leads to demands for a “right to die.” This brings in the subject of Dr. Jack
Kevorkian. Dr. Jack Kevorkian is a man who both studied and practiced assisted suicide.
He practiced euthanasia on a total of thirty-five patients. Many were in a terminal
condition. Donald O’Keef age seventy-three died on September 9, 1993 by the inhalation
of carbon monoxide. Donald O’Keef was diagnosed with bone cancer, his condition was
considered a terminal stage. Before O’Keef was put to death he stated “I want to stop the
pain, I want to stop the suffering”. O’Keef was put to death in his home, his wife by his
side. This shows that the one’s pain is a great enough reason to perform euthanasia.
Isabel Correa, age 60, died on September 7, 1996 in a hotel in Frenso, California.
Correa’s cause of death was inhalation of carbon monoxide. Correa’s condition was a
spinal cord condition. She was not terminal. Yet the condition prevented her from
walking. Marguerite Tate, age 70, died on December 15, 1992. Tate died from the
inhalation of carbon monoxide. Tate was in the terminal stages of Lou Gehrigh’s disease,
the medical examiner said she was not able to speak. Being restricted to a wheel chair or
bed, and severe pain and suffering ,and even the loss of speech fits the suit for “the right
Living Will offer patients the right to refuse treatment before being unable to do
it. If they wish to protect themselves from the impact of artificial life prolongation a
living will should be produced. These Wills will not have any legal force if hospitals and
physicians do not recognize it as valid documents. The Canadian Pharmaceutical
Association recommends that the Living will should be developed in a legal format
clearly defining the medical limits.
In conclusion the evidence shows that active euthanasia should be legalized. The
well-being of the patient should be a sufficient answer to the question of legalization. If
severe pain and suffering were in one’s future, and it is incurable, one should have the
‘right to die’. Each patient has different factors that make the decision to put one to rest
very difficult. If this issue were to be legalized, an elaborate process must be developed
to ensure a correct decision. If one requests death, it should be evaluated seriously before
assisted-suicide is performed. Many feel that it is the patients’ right to choose whether or
not to remain living. The view points of opponents and advocates have been debated for
many years. The debate should continue so that the living are to give an opportunity to
participate in forming laws for or against euthanasia. There are several arguments
presented by both those for and against the practice.
“Death and Dying: Euthanasia and Sustaining life.” Encyclopedia of Bioethics. 1995.
“Euthanasia.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia Compton’s Home Library. CD-ROM.
1994-97 ed. Cambridge: Microsoft, 1994
Hall, Kevin. Living and Dying with Dignity. New York: Barnes and Noble Publications,
“Kevorkian’s Patients: More Details,” The K-Files, online, Internet, 28 May. 2000
Neils, Rob Death with Dignity. New York: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1997.
“Pain Relief Promotions Act,” Death and Dying, online, Internet, 18 May. 2000
Singer, Peter. Rethinking Life and Death. New York: St. Martins Press, 1994.
“Twelve Reasons Why Euthanasia Should Not Be Legalized,” Euthanasia Research and
Guidance Organization, online, Internet, 20 May. 2000