Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
Euthanasia: Right or Wrong?
A considerable size of society is in favor of Euthanasia mostly because they feel that as a democratic country, we as free individuals, have the right to decide for ourselves whether or not it is our right to determine when to terminate someone’s life. The stronger and more widely held opinion is against Euthanasia primarily because society feels that it is god’s task to determine when one of his creations time has come, and we as human beings are in no position to behave as god and end someone’s life. When humans take it upon themselves to shorten their lives or to have others to do it for them by withdrawing life-sustaining apparatus, they play god. They usurp the divine function, and interfere with the divine
Euthanasia is the practice of painlessly putting to death persons who have incurable , painful, or distressing diseases or handicaps. It comes from the Greek words for ‘good’ and ‘death’, and is commonly called mercy killing. Voluntary euthanasia may occur when incurably ill persons ask
their physician, friend, or relative , to put them to death. The patients or their relatives may ask a doctor to withhold treatment and let them die. Many critics of the medical profession contend that too often doctors play god on operating tables and in recovery rooms. They argue that no doctor should be allowed to decide who lives and who dies.
The issue of euthanasia is having a tremendous impact on medicine in the United States today. It was only in the nineteenth century that the word came to be used in the sense of speeding up the process of dying and the destruction of so-called useless lives. Today it is defined as the deliberate ending of life of a person suffering from an incurable disease. A distinction is made between positive, or active, and negative, or passive, euthanasia. Positive euthanasia is the deliberate ending of life; an action taken to cause death in a person. Negative euthanasia is defined as the withholding of life preserving procedures and treatments that would prolong the life of one who is incurably and terminally ill and couldn’t
survive without them. The word euthanasia becomes a respectable part of our vocabulary in a subtle way, via the phrase ‘ death with dignity’. Tolerance of euthanasia is not limited to our own country. A court case in South Africa, s. v. Hatmann (1975), illustrates this quite well. A
medical practitioner, seeing his eighty-seven year old father suffering from terminal cancer of the prostate, injected an overdose of Morphine and Thiopental, causing his father’s death within seconds. The court charged the practitioner as guilty of murder because ‘the law is clear that it nonetheless constitutes the crime of murder, even if all that an accused had done is to hasten the death of a human being who was due to die in any
event’. In spite of this charge, the court simply imposed a nominal sentence; that is, imprisonment until the rising of the court. (Friedman 246)
Once any group of human beings is considered unworthy of living, what is to stop our society from extending this cruelty to other groups? If the mongoloid is to be deprived of his right to life, what of the blind and deaf? What about of the cripple, the retarded, and the senile? Courts and moral philosophers alike have long accepted the proposition that people have a right to refuse medical treatment they find painful or difficult to bear, even if that refusal means certain death. However, an appellate court in California has gone one controversial step further. (Walter 176) It ruled that Elizabeth Bouvia, a cerebral palsy victim, had an absolute right to refuse a life-sustaining feeding tube as part of her privacy rights under the US and California constitutions. This was the nation’s most sweeping decision in perhaps the most controversial realm of the rights explosion: the right to die…
As individuals and as a society, we have the positive obligation to protect life. The second precept is that we have the negative obligation not to destroy or injure human life directly, especially the life of the innocent and invulnerable. It has been reasoned that the protection of innocent life- and therefore, opposition to abortion, murder, suicide, and euthanasia- pertains to the common good of society.
Among the potential effects of a legalized practice of euthanasia are the following: “Reduced pressure to improve curative or symptomatic treatment”. If euthanasia had been legal 40 years ago, it is quite possible that there would be no hospice movement today. The improvement in terminal care is a
direct result of attempts made to minimize suffering. If that suffering had been extinguished by extinguishing the patients who bore it, then we may never have known the advances in the control of pain, nausea, breathlessness, and other terminal symptoms that the last twenty years have seen. Some diseases that were terminal a few decades ago are now routinely
cured by newly developed treatments. Earlier acceptance of euthanasia might well have undercut the urgency of the research efforts, which led to the discovery of those treatments. If we accept euthanasia now, we may well delay by decades the discovery of effective treatments for those diseases that are now terminal. (Brock 76)
“Abandonment of Hope”. Every doctor can tell stories of patients expected to die within days that surprise everyone with his or her extraordinary recoveries. Doctors have experienced the wonderful embarrassment of being proven wrong in their pessimistic prognosis. To make euthanasia a
legitimate option as soon as the prognosis is pessimistic enough is to reduce the probability of such extraordinary recoveries from low to zero.
“Increased fear of hospitals and doctors”. Despite all the efforts of health education, it seems there will always be a transference of the patient’s fear of illness from the illness to the doctors and hospitals that treat it. This fear is still very real and leads to large numbers of late presentations of illnesses that might have been cured if only the patients had sought help earlier. To institutionalize euthanasia, however carefully, would undoubtedly magnify all the latent fear of doctors and hospitals
harbored by the public. The inevitable result would be a rise in late presentations and, therefore, preventable deaths.
“Difficulties of oversight and regulation”. Both the Dutch and the California proposals list sets of precautions designed to prevent abuses. They acknowledge that such are a possibility. The history of legal “loopholes” is not a cheering one. Abuses might arise when the patient is wealthy and an inheritance is at stake, when the doctor has made mistakes in diagnosis and treatment and hopes to avoid detection, when insurance coverage for treatment costs is about to expire, and in a host of other circumstances. (Maguire 321)
“Pressure on the Patient”. Both sets of proposals seek to limit the influence of the patient’s family on the decision, again acknowledging the risks posed by such influences. Families have all kinds of subtle ways, conscious and unconscious, of putting pressure on a patient to request euthanasia and relive them of the financial and social burden of care. Many patients already feel guilty for imposing burdens on those on those who
care for them, even when the families are happy to bear the burden. To provide an avenue for the discharge of that guilt in a request for euthanasia is to risk putting to death a great many patients who do not wish to die.
“Conflict with aims of medicine”. The pro-euthanasia movement
cheerfully hands the dirty work of the actual killing to the doctors who largely , neither seek nor welcome the responsibility. There is little examination of the psychological stresses imposed on those whose training and professional outlook are geared to the saving of lives by asking them to start taking lives on a regular basis. Euthanasia advocates seem very
confident that doctors can be relied on to make the enormous efforts sometimes necessary to save some lives, while at the same time assenting to requests to take other lives. Such confidence reflects, perhaps, a high opinion of doctor’s psychic robustness, but it is a confidence seriously undermined by the shocking rates of depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital discord consistently recorded among this group.
“Dangers of Societal Acceptance”. It must never be forgotten that doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators have personal lives, homes and families, or that they are something more than just doctors, nurses, or hospital administrators. They are citizens and a significant part of the society around them. We should be very worried about what the institutionalization of euthanasia will do to society, in general , how will we regard murderers? (Brody 89)
“The Slippery Slope”. How long after acceptance of voluntary euthanasia, will we hear the calls for non-voluntary euthanasia? There are thousands of comatose or demented patients sustained by little more than good nursing care. They are an enormous financial and social burden. How long will the advocates of euthanasia are arguing that we should “assist them in dying”.
“Costs and Benefits”. Perhaps the most disturbing risk of all is posed by the growing concern over medical costs. Euthanasia is, after all, a very cheap service. The cost of a dose of barbiturates and curare and the few hours in a hospital bed that it takes them to act is minute compared to the massive bills incurred by many patients in the last weeks and months of their lives. Already in Britain, There is a serious under- provision of expensive therapies like renal dialysis and intensive care, with the result that many otherwise preventable deaths occur. Legalizing euthanasia would save substantial financial resources, which could be diverted to treatments that are more useful . These economic concerns already exert pressure to accept euthanasia, and, if accepted, they will inevitability tend to enlarge the category of patients for whom euthanasia is permitted…
“Do not tolerate killing”. Now is the time for the medical profession to rally in defense of its fundamental moral principles, to repudiate all acts of direct and intentional killing by physicians and their agents. We call on the profession and its leadership to obtain the best advice, regarding both theory and practice, about how to defend the profession’s moral center and to resist growing pressures both from without and from within. We call on fellow physicians to say that we will not
deliberately kill. We must say also to each of our fellow physicians that we will not tolerate killing of patients and that we shall take disciplinary action against doctors who kill. (Chapman 209)
On the other hand, some people strongly feel that euthanasia is not bad, in addition, should not be looked down upon. Are there no conditions when life is meaningless and should be quietly
ended? If a person is subject to pain that won’t stop as a result of a disease that can’t be cured, must he or she suffer that pain as long as possible when there are gentle ways of putting an end to life? If a person suffers from a disease that deprives him or her of all memory and makes him or her a helpless lump of flesh that may live on for years. If euthanasia were legalized, it should be admitted that there might be some abuses of virtually every social practice. There is no absolute guarantee against that. Nevertheless, we do not normally think that a social practice should be precluded simply because it might sometimes be abused.
The crucial issue is whether the evil of the abuses would be so great as to outweigh the benefit of the practice. In the case of euthanasia, the question is whether the abuses, or the consequences generally, would be so numerous as to outweigh the advantages of legalization. The choice is not between a present policy that is benign and an alternative that is potentially dangerous. The present policy had its evils, too.
We spend more than a billion dollars a day for health car while our teachers are underpaid, and our industrial plants are rusty. This should not continue. There is something fundamentally unsustainable about a society that moves its basic value-producing industries overseas yet continue to manufacture artificial hearts at home. We have money to give smokers heart transplants but no money to retool out steel mills. We train more doctors and lawyers than we need but fewer teachers. On any given day, 30 to 40 percent of the hospital beds in America are empty, but our classrooms are overcrowded and our transportation systems are deteriorating. We are great at treating sick people, but we are not that great at treating a sick economy. In addition, we are not succeeding in international trade. When you really look around and try to find industries the United States is succeeding in, you discover that they are very few and far between.(Lamm133) There is no way we are going to come to grips with this problem until we also look at some of the areas that are not going to go away . One of the toughest of these is what Victor Fuchs called “flat-of-the-curve medicine”- those medical procedures which are the highest in cost but achieve little or no improvement in health status. He says that they must be reduced or eliminated. We must demand that professional societies and licensing authorities establish some norms and standards for diagnostic and therapeutic practice that encompass both costs and medicine. We are going to have to come up with some sort of concept of cost-effective medicine.
Individuals have the right to decide about their own lives and deaths. What more basic right is there than to decide if you are going to live? There is none. A person under a death sentence who is being kept alive, through so-called heroic measures certainly has a fundamental right to say, “Enough is enough. The treatment is worse than the disease. Leave me alone.
Let me die!”. Ironically, those who deny the terminally ill these rights do so out of a sense of high morality. Don’t they see that, in denying the gravely ill and suffering the right to release themselves from pain, they commit the greatest crime? The period of suffering can be shortened. If you have ever been in a terminal cancer ward, it is grim but enlightening. Anyone who has been there can know how much people can suffer before they die. Moreover, not just physically. The emotional, even spiritual, agony is often worse. Today our medical hardware is so sophisticated that the period of suffering can be extended beyond the limit of human endurance. What is the point of allowing someone a few more months or days or hours of so-called life when death is inevitable? There is no point. In fact, it is downright inhumane. When someone under such conditions asks to be allowed to die, it is far more humane to honor that request than to deny it. (Barry 405)
People have a right to die with dignity. Nobody wants to end up
plugged into machines and wired to tubes. Who wants to spend their last days lying in a hospital bed wasting away to something that is hardly recognizable as a human being, let alone his or her former self? Nobody. The very thought insults the whole concept of what it means to be human.
People are entitled to dignity, in life and in death. Just as we respect people right to live with dignity, so we must respect their right to die with dignity. In the case of the terminally ill, that means people have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment when it is apparent to them that all the treatment is doing is destroying their dignity, and reducing them to some subhuman level of humanity.
The reasons just stated in favor of euthanasia are often over looked due to the following arguments that are against euthanasia. The way you talk you would think people have absolute right over their bodies and lives. That is obviously just not true. No individual has absolute freedom. Even the patient’s Bill of Rights, which was drawn up by the American Hospital Association, recognizes this. Although it acknowledges that patients have the right to refuse treatment, the document also realizes that they have this right and freedom only to the extent permitted by law. Maybe people should be allowed to die if they want to. However, if so, it is not because they have an absolute right to dispose of themselves if they want to. (Brock 73) Only a fool would minimize the agony that many terminally ill patient
endure. In addition, there are no questions that by letting them die on request we shorten the period of suffering. However, we also shorten their lives. Can you seriously, argue that the saving of pain is greater good than the saving of
life? Alternatively, that presence of pain is worse than the loss of life? Of course, nobody likes to see a creature suffer, especially when the creature has requested a halt to the suffering. Nevertheless, we have to keep our priorities straight.
Pro euthanasianists make it sound as though the extraordinary efforts made to keep people alive are not worthy of human beings. What could be more respectful of human life, than to maintain life against all odds, and against all hope? All of life is a struggle and a gamble. At the gaming table of life, nobody ever knows what the outcome will be. ” Indeed, humans are noblest when they persist in the face of the inevitable. Look at our literature. Reflect on our heroes. They are not those who have capitulated but those who have endured. No, there is nothing undignified against being hollowed out by a catastrophic disease, about writhing in pain, about wishing, it would end. The indignity lies in capitulation”.(Buchanan 208)
Friedman, Emily. Ethics Issues For Health Care Professionals.
Baskerville: American Hospital Publishing, 1986.
Maguire, Daniel. Death By Choice. Garden City: Doubleday &
Reich, Warren. Quality Of Life. New York: Paulist Press, 1990.
Brody, Baruch. Life And Death Decision Making. New York:
Oxford University Press,1988.
Chapman, Carleton. Physicians, Law,& Ethics. New York: New York University Press,1984.
Maestri, William. Choose Life And Not Death . New York:
Library Of Congress,1986.
Low, Charlotte. Euthanasia – Opposing Viewpoints . San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1989.
Brock, Dan. Deciding For Others. Cambridge: Cambridge
Barry, Vincent. Moral Aspects Of Health Care. Belmont:
Wadsworth Publishing Company,1982.
Current, Richard. “Death.” The World Book Encyclopedia, 1986 Ed.
Gibbs, Nancy. “Dr. Death Strikes Again” TIME, 54 (November 4,1991)