Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper
Euthanasia-Everyone Has the Right to Choose to Live or Die
Katie, a thirty-five year old woman was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. For the past two years Katie has been receiving chemotherapy and taking numerous types of medication to try to prolong her life. All of the treatments and visits to the doctors have made her even more tired and now Katie has to battle just to get out of bed. Every day her condition is becoming worse and worse. The doctors tell Katie she has six to eight months to live, and she has to receive six hours of therapy every day. She decides she doesn’t want to go through anymore pain or suffering and knows it is only a matter of time before she dies. She wants to end her suffering by taking her own life. Katie can not do it by herself and needs someone to assist her. How can someone assist a terminally ill person in taking a life and not risk going to jail for it?
In recent years, euthanasia has become a fiery debate. Euthanasia is a Greek word that means “easy death,” but the controversy it has created is just the opposite. Opponents of euthanasia say it is a fancy word for murder. Whether the issue is unnaturally taking another human?s life, assisting suicide, or active euthanasia, society is afraid of and not accepting of death. Especially with the prejudices of ageism, the dread of aging and dying. However, the issues that surround euthanasia are not only about death, they are about one?s liberty, right to privacy and control over his or her own body. So, the question remains, who has the right?
Under current U.S. law, there are clear distinctions between the two types of euthanasia. They are physician assisted death and euthanasia, which are different from one another. Physician assisted death involves a second party, usually a doctor, who gives the patient drugs and instructs him or her on how to take his or her own life. With euthanasia, it is a doctor who administers the lethal drug dose to the patient with his own hands. Since it is identical to homicide, euthanasia is illegal or a crime in most states. Although, the question is, how do prosecutors define the difference between ending a person’s life with his or her permission, and helping a person commit suicide? If a doctor, at a patient’s request, gives the person a lethal injection, he or she may be charged with murder. However, if a doctor simply places the lethal injection by the patient’s side, and the patient injects himself or herself, the doctor would be charged with assisted suicide. Although, it is not a crime to be present when a person takes his or her life, “it is a crime to be involved with the action intended to help facilitate death, no matter how justifiable and compassionate the circumstances may be” (DeSimone 45). There are many questions to what is legal in euthanasia and assisted suicide due to differences in circumstances. Although euthanasia is considered a crime in most states, the punishments can be as harsh as imprisonment. It depends on the state, but in some places non-medical euthanasia that is performed at home is not seen as a crime as long as the deceased was dying from a terminal illness, is an adult, and clearly made the request.
Interest in euthanasia in the United States began in 1870, when a commentator, Samuel Williams, proposed to the Birmingham Speculative Club that euthanasia be permitted “in all cases of hopeless and painful illness” to bring about “a quick and painless death” (Jens and Kung). The word painless is important. The idea of euthanasia didn?t begin to gain popularity because of new technologies for prolonging life, but because of the discovery of new drugs, such as morphine for the relief of pain, that could also painlessly induce death. The debate culminated in 1906, after the Ohio legislature took up An Act Concerning Administration of Drugs to Mortally Injured and Diseased Persons, which was a bill to legalize euthanasia. After being debated for months, the Ohio Legislature overwhelmingly rejected the bill. Euthanasia reemerged in 1976 and California was the first state to legalize a patient’s right to refuse life-prolonging treatment. The Legislature passed the Natural Death Act, which allows for living wills, and a request to a doctor to withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatment. The living will basically includes their request to die, and then also what their wishes are as far as what they want done with their assets. In 1990, the Supreme Court case, Cruzan v. Missouri, recognized the principle that a person has constitutionally protected right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. On March 6, 1996, for the first time in U.S. history, in the case Washington v. Glucksberg, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th circuit court in San Francisco overturned a Washington State law that made assisted suicide a felony. The court noted that, under present law, a dying patient on life support may legally have it removed to facilitate death while another dying patient, not on life support but suffering under equivalent circumstances and equally close to death, has no means to end his or her life. “Throughout the nation, Americans are engaged in an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality and practicality of physician-assisted suicide” (Rohr 28).
However, the Court left open the possibility that such bans might be invalid when applied to individual cases involving great suffering at the end of a terminal illness. In 1994 a limited right to die measure sneaked into law in Oregon. The Oregon law allowed doctors to prescribe, but not administer, a deadly dose of medication to terminally ill patients, defined as those diagnosed as having less than six months to live. Doctors in Oregon are now permitted to prescribe life-ending medication to anyone who is mentally competent and diagnosed with less than six months to live, but may only take a lethal dose after completing a fifteen day waiting period. The law does not specify what medication may be used. Laws like the one in Oregon should be created in every state because then what is legal would be known and there would be less confusion when deciding in different cases if punishment should take place. For example, in one case the patient has a terminal illness and is assisted in suicide by a family member and the other patient has a terminal illness but is assisted by a doctor. There have been cases where they didn?t prosecute the family member for assisting in suicide because the dying had a terminal illness. If laws are clearly stated then the court system could make the same decisions amongst cases and in the example doctors would be needed to assist in all suicides for it to be legal. Instead, at the current time, decisions can vary between cases that are alike because there is no set law.
Discussion on physician assisted suicide is not only in the United States, it is a hot debate in the Netherlands also. Euthanasia is still a criminal offense in the Netherlands, punishable by up to twelve years in prison, but it is still practiced. Dutch physicians who put hopelessly ill patients to death after being asked to do so are not prosecuted if they follow certain guidelines formulated by the courts. First, the patient must make the request at his own initiative, repeatedly and explicitly expressing his wish to die. Second, the patient must be suffering from severe physical or mental pain, with no prospect of recovery. Since 1984, Dutch courts have added a third condition, a physician intending to perform euthanasia must first consult a colleague to confirm the accuracy of the diagnosis, verify the planned means of bringing about death, and make sure all legal requirements are being met. Typically, a Dutch euthanasia patient is first given a shot of barbiturates, which causes unconsciousness within three to five seconds. A follow-up shot of curare produces death in ten to twenty minutes by paralyzing the respiratory system. A Dutch doctor who performs euthanasia can not say the death was due to “natural causes” on the death certificate. He, or the coroner must inform the police that a medically aided death has occurred. The police, in turn, reports to the district attorney, who then decides whether or not to prosecute.
Recently, Dr. Jack Kevorkian killed a man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and gave the videotape to 60 Minutes. Thomas Youk, 52, was killed by lethal injection of potassium chloride at the hands of Dr. Kevorkian. Dr. Kevorkian has claimed to have taken part in over 130 assisted deaths, but this time he took his work to a new level. He injected the poisons himself, rather than rigging up his homemade “suicide machine” so the patient can kill him or herself. When Michigan banned assisted suicide, Kevorkian decided he was going to be a brave activist for euthanasia and stand up for what he believes in. This new case revived the long and argumentative debate over whether we have the right to die, and whether doctors should take part in their patients’ deaths. Although, Kevorkian has gone a step further to euthanasia, the act of actually carrying out the death of a person. “With his new step toward Euthanasia, Dr. Kevorkian may have lost a number of his supporters. Some assisted suicide activists who once idolized Kevorkian are refusing to support his aid to euthanasia. Even if he is acquitted of the first degree murder charge, he could find that he is no longer taken serious and could actually hurt his cause” (Beauchamp and Veatch 372).
Euthanasia opponents envision a bleak future for dying patients who don’t have access to health insurance, adequate pain control treatment, or the money to pay for long term care. Should we reduce our available choices because we don’t believe people can always make the right decisions for the right reasons, or because we fear possible abuses? There is no accountability for such deaths, no procedures, no safeguards, and no reporting requirements. These are also other reasons why laws need to be made in every state. How much safer would it be if laws such as those in Oregon were in place nationwide? I believe, that if in this great country, we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then why shouldn’t a person have the right to control the conditions of his or her death as much as they have the right to control the conditions of his or her life. If we follow similar procedures of the Dutch laws on assisted suicide it may help us avoid unnecessary suffering, and it may even be worthwhile to work out with the legal and medical professions so euthanasia can become legal.
Euthanasia should not be considered barbaric because those who practice it wait as long as they can into the illness before they will justifiably take another?s life. Also, it is not seen as unethical in society when a doctor “pulls the plug” on a patient when they have no more hope of living. Unlike suicide, euthanasia patients are not considered selfish by their family and other loved ones. It is seen as the best thing for them because they will be no longer suffering, even though it is hard for any one to let a loved one depart from their life. With the help of euthanasia or physician assisted death they won?t have to die a long, painful death. People with a potentially fatal illness and their families should expect and receive reliable, professional, and supportive care from hospices and the community before their last few days of life. Health professionals must also commit themselves to improving care for dying patients. Only a special type of person can be patient and caring enough to give the compassion needed to their dying patients. To increase better care, policy makers and purchasers of health care should work with doctors, organizations, and researchers to develop new ways to measure quality of care and reform drug prescription laws. Palliative, or pain-relieving care, should become an area of expertise in the medical profession and taught to them in medical school as part of medical ethics.
Other situations where euthanasia is appropriate includes those who have such a severe physical handicap it restricts them from functioning in society mentally and physically. I do agree that laws and regulations need to be in play so that people won?t literally start killing each other and call it non-medical assisted suicide. A doctor needs to either administer or oversee the procedure. Although, there have been cases where someone who was not a doctor assisted another in suicide in the privacy of their own home. It was tolerated by the coroner and police in the case that the deceased was terminally ill. Laws need to be in place so there is a safeguard. This means that only under certain circumstances and procedures euthanasia or physician assisted suicide can take place legally. Those who don?t follow the guidelines would be arrested. Such laws are in place in Oregon and restricts to whom the aid can be given to. The patient must be an adult who is terminally ill, which means they have less than six months to live. The patient can not be clinically depressed or suicidal. This also guarantees that the patient is certain and competent in their decision. The last safeguard states that the patient must be given and know the alternative treatments so they can reconsider ending their life if they choose. With the step by step procedure patients would be absolutely sure about their decision and would have been given plenty of times to change their minds to reconsider. Other legal regulations include: a repetitive oral request from the patient, fifteen day waiting period, and then repeat the request with certainty to the doctor. Then there is a written request the patient must write, signed by two witnesses who are not related, and followed by another forty-eight hour waiting period. After that the patient can receive the legal dose of medicine from his or her doctor. By now the patient should be absolutely sure about his or her decision.
There have been a number of people supporting the legalization of euthanasia, and doctors have been trying to help terminally ill patients who no longer wish to live; still, if the majority of Americans supports physician assisted death and euthanasia, then why is it still a crime in some places today? A study reported in the book, Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints, 53% of the people polled said that there are situations where assisted suicide should be legal. The option of euthanasia should be available to any one who needs it. Who knows, there can be that situation in any ones life where they know they are going to die. If they feel like they want to choose euthanasia, then they should be able to. Most people who oppose euthanasia believe only God can give and take away life, life is sacred, and no one has the right to purposely take it away. Many religious people follow this principle, so they do not agree with suicide and assisting dying. Most religions believe that in the final moments of living, and those for whom we care, are being drawn into the dying of Christ.
Since euthanasia is a life or death question, it tends to stir up a lot of emotions for those who oppose and support the act of euthanasia. Discussions of the issue tends to generate more controversy than support, and key points tend to be overlooked. Everybody has the right to choose the way they live or die. In the medical aspect, there have been many reports by terminally ill people complaining of severe pain. The medications that are prescribed have no effect, the palliative care has failed, and people are clearly dying in pain. This is what leads most people to seek for physician assisted death. If the legislature refuses to legalize the act of physician assisted death and euthanasia, they better find more advanced methods of care, and better medicine. Medical technology has acquired an ability to extend life, but may mislead at the same time, making people believe that treatment is always worth while. The technology and medicines may extend life, but may also make the person feel worse than they had before.
Also, there isn?t enough compassion given to our elders. In some cases families don?t have enough patience to take care of their elderly family members and feel they are in the way. That is one reason why the elderly are put in nursing homes, so someone else can take care of them. People should think about how they want to be treated when they become old and then maybe more people would be taken care of properly when they are old and be less likely to want to end their lives. People must put themselves in the place of a terminally ill person and try to realize what it is like to know you?re going to die, and not to mention the excruciating pain they go through. My suggestion is to visit a nursing home for the day. The residents at care centers all wonder why they go through all the hospice care, it only prolongs their pain and suffering? Not one of the residents want to be there, so why should they? It should be their decision.
You have to put aside all your religious beliefs, all your moral beliefs, and everything else you were raised to believe. A person has the right the decide for him or her self what is considered a good quality of life. Nearly all states follow guidelines of allowing patients to refuse treatment, even if they know death could be the result. If euthanasia where to become legal then dying patients could have this option if the pain became unbearable to them. Patients should also have the legal authority to decide their time of death, even if they don?t have the legal authority to determine the method of it. It?s about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and if taking your own life to ease your pain makes you happy, then so be it. Everybody has the right to choose the way they live or die!
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