Secret Crimes Of Compassion Essay, Research Paper
Secret Crimes of Compassion
“To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause death.” -Oath of Hippocrates
This phrase alone supports the very battle cry of those who oppose euthanasia. Their efforts have gone as far as to help make laws forbidding doctor-assisted suicide, including strict procedures for medical staff to determine the competency of an ill patient. But then there are those who wish to “make it easier on themselves” and even the family and friends, and choose as alternative route the their suffering. Extremely difficult problems arise surrounding the issue of euthanasia: What is the difference between killing someone and letting someone die? Who determines the competency of a terminally ill patient? If a patient is incompetent, who then makes the decisions for him? Most importantly, do we even have the right to die? The question of whether this is a moral battle or a legal battle has yet to be determined. Ever though the issue of suicide may consist of both factors, if one commits suicide successfully, they “live” neither with the moral guilt nor the face the legal consequences. So then if a second party is involved, it changes the whole story.
What is the difference between killing someone and letting someone die? To get a little more technical, these phrases are also known as active and passive euthanasia. If one were to evaluate both of these, he would probably say that letting someone die were a better choice than killing someone. After all, most medical practices in the U.S. allow for the “legally.” One may be preferred over the other but is that one better than the other? In an example, let’s say that a doctor decides to withhold treatment of a patient who is to die in the next couple of days. He does this because he finds it helpless to prolong his suffering. But in actuality, when the doctor withdraws his treatment, the patient takes a lot longer to die and is in more agonizing pain. Once this decision is already made, speeding up his death through active euthanasia looks more preferable over passive euthanasia. So the point is that allowing someone to die may take longer and be more painful, where giving them a lethal injection might be quick and painless (Rachels, 428).
Even in today’s society, people think it is morally wrong to kill someone rather than letting someone die. But is it really worse? To help answer this question, there is another example that will help illustrate the issue. There was a guy named CJ who was to inherit a lot of money if anything were to happen to his three-year-old nephew. One day his nephew was swimming outside in the pool when CJ came along and drowned him and made it look like an accident. Then there was another guy named Joe who also was to inherit a lot of money if anything was to happen to three-year-old nephew. Well Joe, who decides to kill his nephew, went outside where his nephew was swimming in the pool. To Joe’s surprise, he saw that his nephew had slipped, hit his head and fell face first into the water. Joe is excited and stands by to watch him drown and does nothing to save him. Did either one of these guys act any better than the other? If one were to look at it from a moral aspect, one would say that CJ’s actions were morally worse than Joe’s because CJ “actively” killed his nephew. But both of these guys had the same intention, goal and personal gain from the incident. CJ may look like the terrible guy for his actions and Joe may be regarded as a sick individual for watching. But didn’t Joe “do” something? Any way you look at it, these two men committed an act, whether it was passive or active, one is no better than the other. In medical practices today, doctors may not necessarily try to destruct their patients with the same intentions as CJ and Joe. But the possibilities of active and passive euthanasia may be because the doctor may find a patient’s life “of no use” or it is or may become a burden to the family and/or friends.
In defense of the statement about the doctor, one may side with the story of a nurse, Barbara Huttman. Barbara was maliciously ridiculed as a murderer when she appeared on the Phil Donahue show in 1983. She told of a story of her favorite cancer patient, Mac. In this story, she told of a great deal of hardships Mac and his family had to face. Doctors even had to resuscitate Mac 52 times on one month! Mac begged and pleaded with Barbara to stop giving him treatment because the pain was so unbearable. Barbara even tried to get a “no code” order, which meant that once Mac had stopped breathing, they would not resuscitate him. Mac finally asked Barbara one more time to just let him go the next time he stopped breathing. Well, Mac stopped breathing and Barbara grabbed the Blue Code button but hesitated to push it. Barbara just held Mac’s hand until the grip become loose and the life of Mac left his body. She then waited until she knew that the team could not bring him back, and then she pushed the button. Barbara knows that she may be guilty of murder, but she feels that it was worth the crime of compassion (Barnet & Bedau, 429).
Who determines the competency of an ill patient? This is a difficult question to answer since most of us would like to think that we are all competent in our decision making unless we are mentally ill or are in a comatose state. But then if a patient does become incompetent, who then makes the decision for him? Does his family have any power over what should be done with their relative?
Since the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan in 1976, courts in some 26 American jurisdictions have authorized the refusal of treatment in circumstances where that refusal would most likely result in the patient’s death. Many believe that the rules in this area of law had become relatively clear although their application in particular cases necessarily involve hard and tragic decisions.
Two recent high decisions mark a turning point. The New York Court of Appeals in Westchester County on Behalf of Mary O’Connor v. Hall and the Missouri Supreme Court in the Cruzon case; both reversed lower court decisions that authorized the withholding of artificially administered nutrition and hydration from incompetent patients. In each case, the patient’s family wished the treatment withheld, believing that course would be what the patient would want. In each case, the trial court accepted the evidence as supporting the family’s belief, and establishing that this would be what the patient wished. In each case, that state high court disagreed.
From the very outset, there has been the assertion in such cases of privacy right under the Constitution and of a common-law right to refuse treatment. However, the U. S. Supreme Court has, until now in the Cruzon case, declined to accept any case in the area of law for review (Nankivell, 155).
The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t even want to discuss the rights of privacy or want to regard the family’s wishes and undeniable rights. If the decision is to be based on the patient’s wishes, it is reasonable for the state to require that the evidence of those wishes be clear, convincing and inherently reliable. The problem is not one of principle; it is one of application and result. That the state has an unqualified interest in life is similarly fine in principle. It is not for the state to make quality of life decisions. It is one thing for an individual to make the decision for his or her own quality of life. It is entirely another for the state to decide which people is worthy to live.
The issue is as whether it is appropriate for the courts and guardians in the exercise of state-delegated, parens patriae, power, to take into account the burden to the individual of the treatment at issue when the individual is so disabled to make these decisions. Again, this is more likely to stay at a state level, and since it does, that state have reserved powers to help make laws and decisions to help give us a right to die, that is not explicitly covered in the Constitution. Sad enough, individuals seeking their right to die are forced to do so through a long and cumbersome judicial process. In some instances, a favorable judgment is not reached until long after the individual’s death (Sloan, 13).
The issue of euthanasia is so divided that a solution will probably never be found. Those doctors and medical staff who swear by the Hippocratic Oath would rather steer away from an illegal bind by just prolonging life as long as the have the power and knowledge to do so. Has the whole medical community become so arrogant that they believe in the illusion of salvation through science? Have they become so self-righteous that they think meddling in God’s work is their duty, their moral imperative, and their legal obligation? Do they really believe that they have the right to force “life” on a suffering individual who begs for the right to die (Barnet & Bedau, 423)? As Americans we are given the absolute right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. God forbid that the day should come when life is actually forced on an individual who lacks the liberty to say if they are happy or not with the decision that has been made. In essence, all liberty is lost for the terminally ill patient, and the pursuit of happiness is bound in a tiresome judicial process. Those of us who have the right to live, and are not among the living dead, rarely stick up for the one that are. Because of this, we have left our lives in the hands of the medical practice and the law, whom both are notorious for their “God-complex”. Do we have the right to live? Yes. Do we have the right to die? All we have left to rely on are the secret crimes of compassion.
Barnet, S. & Bedau, H. Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996. “Euthanasia: Should Doctors Intervene at the End of Life?” (Barbara Huttman, pgs 422-424, James Rachels, pgs 427-430).
Nankivell, R. “Right to Refuse Treatment”. The U.S. Supreme Court Reporter. Washington, D.C.: 1989-1990.
Sloan, I. The Right to Die: Legal and Ethical Problems. London: Oceana Publications, Inc. 1988.