Euthanasia The Final Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Euthanasia: the Final Analysis
In America today many arguments are centered around the right to choose: the right for women to have an abortion, the right for gays to be allowed to raise children or be legally married, and the right to physician-assisted suicide. These arguments all have something to do with the individual having the right to make this choice or if society should be able to decide for them, thus removing this choice. Euthanasia is a choice everyone should have, but like all rights, it should not be taken advantage. By legalizing euthanasia the practice of assisted suicide would be an available choice as well as regulated to see that it does not get abused and used for the wrong reasons.
The word ‘euthanasia’ is derived from the Greek – eu, “good”, and thanatos, meaning “death” [Marker, Special to Insight]. Some think of euthanasia as mercy killing, while others see it as murder. There are two ways to induce euthanasia, actively or passively. Passive euthanasia is defined as the bringing about of someone’s death by withdrawing all forms of support and letting nature run its course. Active euthanasia involves causing death to someone through a direct action, like giving someone a lethal injection of controlled substances, or a high dose of carbon monoxide.
There are many cases where euthanasia has come under close scrutiny. Most memorable are those involving Dr. Kavorkian. Known as “Dr. Death”, as some headlines read, Dr. Kavorkian has become famous for his many assisted suicides with his suicide machine. In most cases the people involved in these high profile cases are battling a terminal illness, are in great pain, and have a quality of life so low they do not have the will to go on living. It is obvious that all medical treatment has been exhausted and that there has been a great deal of time and thought put into this decision. Why then are these people not allowed to seek out a painless alternative in their situation?
Over the past few decades, ageing populations and advances in medical technology have put a growing number of people attached to a machine but wanting to die. Even for those who escape this fate, medical treatment has
often made death more prolonged and more painful. These developments have sparked complex and emotive debates about how to handle the final stages of life.
In 1997 the American Supreme Court found that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide [Economist, Oct 16,'99]. However, the court’s ruling did not bar states from passing laws explicitly creating such a right if they chose to do so. For example, the state of Oregon passed a bill that allows limited physician-assisted suicides depending on the ethical and moral issues of the case [Economist, Oct 16,'99]. However, recently other nations and even states have passed laws on the practice of euthanasia. The Dutch parliament is currently considering a bill that would make permanent a 15-year experiment in allowing doctor-assisted suicide by writing into law, regulations which have governed such practices. Assisted suicides should be openly discussed and regulated to make sure that both the patients and the doctors are protected.
When it comes to euthanasia, many moral and ethical questions arise. For instance, what if the practice of physician-assisted suicide gets out of control and abused? What if it being used carelessly or for all the wrong reasons? What about the religious aspects? What if euthanasia causes those who are disabled or old fear that their life may be taken against their will? This is where the law would step in and set limits to decide under what circumstances assisted suicide would be acceptable.
There are many arguments offered against euthanasia. Many religions contend, and advise against, a person seeking suicide of any kind. In religious views life is a gift from God, and one not to thrown away or wasted. It is viewed that by committing suicide of any kind we are disrupting God’s natural order. In a celebrated essay on suicide, David Hume, a great Scottish philosopher, thoroughly disputed this view. He pointed out that almost any human action alters the natural order. “If I turn aside a stone which is falling upon my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I invade the peculiar province of the Almighty by lengthening out my life beyond the period which by the natural laws of matter and motion He had assigned it, ” he wrote. “It would be no crime in me to divert the Nile or Danube from its course, were I able to effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood from their natural channel?” To the argument that human life is a special exception, Hume’s reply was blunt: “the life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” If one accepts the deist view of God as a “watch maker” who sets the world ticking and then does not intervene, Hume’s conclusion is irrefutable [Economist, Oct 16,'99]. Hume’s point that everything a human does to extend his life to the next day is going against the “natural order”, so why would ending it be any different? Hume makes a strong argument for Euthanasia. This view does not belittle a human life, but puts it in perspective.
If euthanasia is put into law, then every citizen has will have that right, not just the terminally ill. This leads down the “slippery slope” that allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide could lead to coercion of the old and ill and a hastening of their death to suit the living. But they also face another “slippery slope” that the arguments for euthanasia could lead to calls for the acceptance of suicide as morally valid, not just for the terminally ill, but for many others as well. In both cases the regulation of the practice of assisted suicide is called for. Yet the practice cannot be regulated if it is illegal. By writing laws that govern the situations and take into account the specifics of a case these “slippery slopes” can be avoided.
The arguments both for and against Euthanasia will continue for years to come as it has in the past. Aristotle condemned it. David Hume defended it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau called the right to suicide a “clear and self-evident principle” [Economist, Oct 16,'99]. Yet in today’s society, especially in America, it goes beyond the “suicide is bad” argument. In America it needs to center around rights. A great person once said that we do not have the freedom of speech unless we have the freedom to refuse to speak. And we do not have the freedom of religion unless we have the freedom not to be religious. So then how do we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness unless we have the freedom to deny any one of these? Our life is not our own if we cannot choose when to let it go.
Marker, Rita L. “Special to Insight”, Insight on the News, Symposium; Pg. 25 March 8, 1999, News World Communications, Inc.
The Economist, October 16, 1999, U.S. Edition, The Economist Newspaper Ltd.