An Argument for Euthanasia
Euthanasia is defined as, “The act or practice of putting to death painlessly a person suffering from an incurable disease.” Euthanasia can be traced back as far back as the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. It was sometimes allowed in these civilizations to help others die. Voluntary euthanasia was approved in these ancient societies. Today, the practice of euthanasia causes great controversy. Both pro-life groups and right-to-die groups present arguments for their different sides. Pro-life groups make arguments and present fears against euthanasia. I contend that the case for the right to die is the stronger argument.
I will begin my by listing the arguments against euthanasia and my criticism of each argument.
1. Euthanasia is a violation of medical ethics. The American Medical Association has consistently condemned euthanasia as an unethical practice. Today, attitudes may be changing. Recent surveys indicate that a majority of doctors in some areas, (60% in Oregon, 56% in Michigan, and 54% in Great Britain.) favor euthanasia in extreme cases.
2. Euthanasia weakens the trust relationship between the doctor and the patient. We expect doctors to heal and save lives, not to kill. I feel that I should be able to trust my doctor to do what is best for me as an individual in any situation, including ending unbearable suffering, even if it is my choice to die in order to end my suffering. Doctors may lose the trust of their patients by not helping them to end their suffering.
3. Choosing the time and place of a person’s death is God’s decision. This argument suggests that we should never intervene in any life-threatening situation. If a person is having a heart attack, should we just stand by and watch them die? If we were to seek medical attention in order to save his life, we would be interfering with God’s will for that person to die. This argument contains nothing that can be rationally argued against because it does not tell us when it is okay to interfere with God’s decisions.
4. The issue of euthanasia is a slippery slope. Pro-life groups contend that if we allow any type of euthanasia, sooner or later, we would begin killing off not only the terminally ill, but also the handicapped, the poor, the elderly and anyone else who becomes troublesome. The view that we should not make a decision because it could lead to other less prudent decisions later is not a reasonable foundation for setting policies, unless later decisions are definite, and are absolutely wrong. I would hope that the virtue of society would lead us to know where to draw the line between going far enough and going too far. At the present time, it is not clear if where the line is drawn now is where it should be drawn.
5. Euthanasia is killing. Most people believe that there are circumstances when killing is allowed, such as self-defense. The only question is whether or not the killing is justified under the circumstances. In the case of self-defense, killing is justified. The same is true of euthanasia.
6. People who request euthanasia may be requesting it because they are depressed and they may change their minds. I believe that psychological evaluation will detect the mental condition of a patient, and depression, if it exists, can be treated. Patients can be given counseling to determine if their decision is what they truly want. We must determine whether or not patients should be able to be in control of their own lives.
7. Euthanasia violates the difference between passive and active and practices. This argument contends that there is a moral difference between letting nature take its course by terminating treatment when death is inevitable, and actively taking steps to make death come quicker. The question that should be asked of this is "What is the best thing to do in a worst case scenario?" The answer may be to terminate pointless treatment, or to act in order to bring about a merciful, painless death, that brings to an end terrible, needless suffering. The patient may ask for either one and we may morally grant their request. In either case, death occurs and the patient’s choice is involved in both.
8. Euthanasia is wrong because there may have been a misdiagnosis or there may be
the development of a miracle cure. This argument is wishful thinking. Although these instances are not entirely impossible, they only require that we be extremely cautious, not that euthanasia should ever be performed.
9. Euthanasia to relieve suffering is against the role that suffering plays in God’s plan. The view that all suffering is sent from God is extreme in the sense that it suggests that we should never do anything to relieve any kind of suffering. The majority of people today believe that we should do everything possible to relieve the suffering of others. To do otherwise is considered immoral. Since this is true, we can logically argue that in some cases, when pain and suffering of a patient become intolerable, relieving that suffering should take priority over extending life, if that is the patient’s choice.
10. A person’s independence is not absolute. Today, society does not allow individuals to do anything that they want to do. There are laws that prevent certain acts that harm people, even if the harm comes only to them. For example, we don’t allow people to sell themselves into slavery. So the argument is that we don’t have a right to ask someone to kill us or help us to kill ourselves. Deciding what choices should be regulated by law is difficult for any society. When a patient’s pain and suffering becomes so intolerable that they choose to end their life in order to end their suffering, society and or government should not interfere with their decision. The choice to end their own suffering should be entirely theirs, because no one can know their agony but themselves.
11. The consequences of euthanasia would be bad. This argument implies that guidelines designed for euthanasia would at some point be violated, and mistakes would be made. Anti-euthanasia activists argue that patients may choose death because they feel guilty for staying alive and causing financial burdens on their families. Families may give up too soon and encourage the death to end the suffering of their loved one. Doctors may not try as hard to extend the life of a patient who is considered terminal. Society might put less value on giving medical assistance for the disabled, the poor, and minorities because death would be cheaper. Society may also become less sensitive to the needs of the suffering and more insensitive about death.
These are dangers and measures must be taken to prevent them if euthanasia were to become legal. Nothing is free form abuse. The allowed practice of withdrawing life-support, already puts pressure on patients and family members. Doctors are currently permitted to give heavy doses of pain medication that often makes death come quicker. The system as it is today allows for secret acts of euthanasia, because doctors are able to also “doctor” death certificates. Abuses of euthanasia may become less frequent if the practice was regulated. The option of euthanasia could result in more effort towards making life more bearable for patients, so that they would not want to die. The biggest abuse today is the fact that we make people exist in lives that are terminally miserable and intolerable, by not allowing them the choice of ending their suffering.
Killing someone in self-defense, killing the enemy during war, capital punishment for horrid crimes, or killing a kidnapper who is murdering hostages are all examples of when society views murder as morally legitimate. This tells us that ending a life is not always considered wrong, depending on the circumstances. So, euthanasia, in certain circumstances should be allowed.
My arguments for the regulation and legalization of euthanasia is as follows:
1. The patient’s choice takes priority over other considerations in some situations. Although we would want to provide counseling for individuals, so that every option could be explored, the final decision to die should rest with the patient, whose incurable illness or disability has made their life so full of agony and torment that they want to end their suffering.
2. The doctor’s role is to do what is best for each individual patient, and in some instances, this may include ending life upon the request of a person who is suffering unnecessarily. Many doctors insist that they are to save lives, not to end them intentionally. The role of a doctor is to heal, to prolong life, to reduce suffering, to restore health and physical well being. So, in extreme cases when it is no longer possible to heal, restore health or physical well-being, or it is impossible to prolong a life free from suffering, the best and most moral thing that a doctor can do is to relieve the intolerable and unnecessary suffering of a patient by hastening their death.
3. Sometimes ending suffering takes priority over extending life. Euthanasia causes an anguishing conflict between values. Life is a gift, but circumstances may turn it into a deep hopelessness, filled with suffering and pain. We want to live happy joyful lives, but sometimes death may be preferable to the continuation of a life of suffering and agony. Morality does not allow us to kill, but it does require us to be compassionate and merciful. Although we must make every effort to deter abuse of euthanasia, we must also, at the patient’s request, allow them to make the choice to end their suffering, rather than to require them to endure a joyless, agonizing life.
4. When a person decides that they prefer death rather than life, everyone would benefit if it were legal to show mercy. Charity and compassion demand that we legalize euthanasia for the sake of the suffering patient and their families who have witnessed their relatives forced to live in extreme agony. When doctors have done all they can do and death has not yet brought an end to the patient’s suffering, family members are helpless and have to stand by and watch in horror and despair as their loved one is forced to lay needlessly suffering, awaiting death. They find themselves hoping for their loved ones death, so that the suffering will end. It would benefit all involved if death in these circumstances were allowed under regulations that prevented abuse.
Families are sometimes forced to make agonizing decisions on whether to take actions that are illegal in order to end the life of someone dear to them, who begs for death. Some people out of desperation, use a gun or a pillow and do what they dread to do but are forced to do to end the suffering of a child, parent, or spouse. These people face legal prosecution. This kind of dreadful situation would not exist if euthanasia were legal.
Doctors are less apt to be accused of performing an illegal act because they are the ones who fill out the death certificate. Some doctors admit that they have given heavy doses of morphine to relieve the extreme pain of terminally ill patients, knowing that such high doses will cause a quicker death. Because their primary aim is to relieve pain, these acts are considered moral. It would not be morally right to give the same high doses of morphine if their primary aim was to cause death. This is in my opinion wrong. In either case, the ultimate end is death.
I believe that it is immoral of society to force caring, compassionate people to lie and go to such morbid lengths to help their patients and loved ones end their suffering. These illegal acts would be entirely unnecessary if euthanasia were regulated and legalized.
Value Premise: Everyone deserves to live a life free from suffering.
Factual Premise: Euthanasia ends suffering.
Conclusion: In order to end suffering euthanasia should be allowed.
Word Count: 2007
Euthanasia is a serious political, moral and ethical issue in today’s society. Most people either strictly forbid it or firmly favor euthanasia. Although, I have no political background or confirmed religion, I choose to formally educate myself on the matter of euthanasia. I feel very strongly about this issue because I am affected by the matter on an almost everyday basis. I am a patient care technician in an emergency room and also work on a cardiac unit in one of Michigan’s top 100 osteopathic hospitals. I’ve actually watched people in pain eventually die. I’ve had to listen to patients beg me to, “pull plugs,” and put pillows over their faces to smother them so they could die faster. Terminally ill patients have a fatal disease from which they will never recover. Euthanasia is when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his/her own life by participating in physician-assisted suicide. After reading the ten sources and extensively researching euthanasia, I still support and promote the legalization of euthanasia. I believe that all people deserve the right to die with dignity.
First of all, I would like to offer my own personal feelings and opinions on the matter of euthanasia because I actually have frequent contact with people who suffer with terminal illnesses. When I was a junior in high school I was offered the opportunity to explore my career options by pursuing advanced learning in the medical field. I attended regular high school for one half of the day, the other half of my day was spent in a nursing home (extended care facility), Port Huron Hospital and also at St. Clair Technology Center. I spent many hours studying medical terminology and proper body mechanics, I also learned how to take care of sick patients while promoting healthy life styles changes. Unfortunately the hardest lesson which was the how to take care of the terminally ill, while being supportive to their many physical, spiritual and emotional needs. I graduated from high school and proceeded to go to college in order to accomplish my goal of becoming a registered nurse. After graduation I moved into my own apartment and took a job at St. John’s Medical Center on an oncology/hospice unit.
I worked at St. John’s for 18 months. Hospice is where terminally ill patients are sent to be cared for during the last stages of their lives. Oncology is the study of tumors, but more specifically, it’s a term usually associated with some kind of cancer. Therefore, for about a year and a half I had to take care of dying patients. These people had a slim chance of surviving for over six months to a year. When my patients were suffering and in pain I had to smile and tell them, “Don’t worry everything will be all right.” We both knew that everything would no be all right and they had just wanted to die. I witnessed patients telling other members of the nursing staff how they had begged and pleaded with god to take their life due to the excruciating pain they were experiencing. The nurse just replied, “Oh sweetie, you shouldn’t say things like that.” I had patients who were so mean and cruel to staff, it was unreal. They were mad at life because they knew it would be taken away soon. I’ve watched patients who were fully coherent and self-sufficient upon admittance in to the hospital become totally confused and bed bound. I watched these people lose all motor skills, which left them crippled and unable to feed or bathe themselves, or even use the toilet. They had lost all of their dignity.
After reading Peter Singer and Mark Sielger’s, “Euthanasia-A Critique,” it is fair to say that these doctors have put forth a strong argument against euthanasia. Singer and Siegler are both medical doctors who are very proficient in their fields. Singer and Siegler make the point that, “the relief of pain and suffering is a crucial goal of medicine,” however, “euthanasia violates the fundamental norms and standards of traditional medicine” (Seyler 333& 335). When a person no longer has the choice of continuing a normal healthy life, unusual circumstances call for rare methods of treatment. Why should a person be tortured with the, “frightening prospect of dying shackled to a modern-day Procrustean bed, surrounded by the latest forms of high technology,” according to Singer and Siegler this is an adamant fear of many fatally ill patients (Seyler 333). Singer and Siegler make several good points in their essay, however, pain control seems to be the biggest issue facing the terminally ill as stated by the doctors. This is entirely untrue. People who are faced with a terminal illness experience just as much emotional turmoil as physical pain. When Singer and Siegler say, “physical pain can be relieved with the appropriate use of analgesic agents,” I am saddened because it has been my own personal experience to watch terminally ill patients become over medicated and drugged up so much that they are unable to think or act for themselves (Seyler 333). When a person can longer speak, think or act for him or herself, that person has been stripped of their dignity.
Sidney Hook’s, “In Defense of Voluntary Euthanasia,” was emotionally charged and very gripping. Sidney Hook is a philosopher, educator and author (Seyler 338). Hook has been so unfortunate as to have sampled death and was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He suffers with congestive heart failure, which one can live with but which if not treated or maintained properly will cause a painful death.
He offers his first hand account of meeting with the Grim Reaper:
I lay at the point of death. A congestive heart failure was treated for diagnostic purposes by an angiogram that triggered a stroke. Violent and painful hiccups, uninterrupted for several days and nights, prevented the ingestion of food. My left side and one of my vocal chords became paralyzed. Some form of pleurisy set in, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of slime. (338)
If this sharp use of imagery isn’t enough to make the reader understand this mans pain, maybe his next account will persuade one to rethink euthanasia, “At one point, my heart stopped beating; just as I lost consciousness, it was thumped back into action again. In one of my lucid intervals during those days of agony, I asked my physician to discontinue all life-supporting services or show me how to do it. He refused and predicted that someday I would appreciate the unwisdom of my request” (Seyler 338). It is important to add Hook’s quotes when reflecting upon his personal experience with death. Hook feels as though he was robbed of the peaceful serenity of death and will have to suffer through it once more, when death comes knocking again.
Euthanasia is a serious issue in today’s political world. Arguments for and against euthanasia are cause for major debate.
Proponents and opponents disagree on at least four controversial issues. The four major issues are, but not limited to, the nature autonomy, the role of beneficence, the distinction between active and passive euthanasia and the public and social implications of legalization. The nature of autonomy basically means that all people are granted the right to think, feel and act for him or herself. The first and fourteenth amendments were put into place to protect an individual’s freedom of religion, speech, privileges, immunities, and equal protection. The role of beneficence involves the physician’s duty to relieve suffering. The distinction between passive and active euthanasia, or killing and allowing one to die. The public and social implications of legalization are totally based on one’s individual feelings.
Euthanasia is a serious topic because it goes against the norms of traditional medicine. Euthanasia is not always applied to terminally patients either. People who have been in serious accidents, or who have debilitating diseases such as severe cases of Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Vascular Diseases (which lead to strokes and heart attacks) are often in consideration for the application of euthanasia. The problem is, however, these patients typically are in a persistent/permanent vegetative state. A persistent/permanent vegetative state (PVS), is a condition in which a person is neither in a coma nor unconscious. In other words, these patients cannot act or speak for themselves or in addition, respond to much stimulus.
Personal experience and opinion may be a factor that weighs heavily on the issue of euthanasia, but the real substance comes from the facts. The legal ramifications play a major role in the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia began with its roots in both the Hippocratic tradition and the Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of life, Western medicine has long opposed the practice of physician-assisted suicide. However, the controversy over euthanasia is not new. Beginning in about 1870 (after the introduction of chloroform and ether) and continuing in today’s society, euthanasia is still a hot topic of discussion. Ohio is the only state in the United States of America that does not explicitly prohibit euthanasia by jurisdiction of the federal law.
After interviewing Dr. Caleb Dimitrivich, an oncologist, who most directly works with terminally ill patients at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, it is easy to see that he definitely opposes euthanasia. Doctors have real difficulty dealing with death. “Dying is something that I, as doctor, am trying to prevent. If a patient is terminally ill, I strive to make that patients life as comfortable as I possibly can,” says Dr. Dimitrivich. After reading, Matters of Life and Death,” by Professor Lewis Wolpert, one is reminded by the’ “doctors attitude” towards dying patients. Wolpert is a professor of biology and how teaches how biology is applied to medicine “Dying is something patients are not allowed to do. It is an affront to so go against the doctor’s efforts and advice, and this is completely understandable but cannot be the basis for not helping a patient die” (Wolpert 42).
The religious community has taken a negative stance on the issue of euthanasia. The majority of Christian religions ban the application of euthanasia to the terminally ill or PVS patients. In the bible, one can read about the absolute sin of taking another human being’s life, it is iniquitously wrong. After interviewing Maryanne Chapman who is a practicing member of the Catholic faith and who has also worked as a secretary for 15 years at St. Valerie of Ravenna in Clinton Township, MI, her opposition to legalized euthanasia is very clear. “It is a crime against God to end a life,” states Chapman. However, Maryanne is 72 years old and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also makes the comment, “people don’t live on machines, so therefore why should we die on them, God didn’t intend for that.” Basically what Mrs. Chapman is trying to say is that for patients suffering with a PVS, it is also a sin to try to sustain a life that has no purpose or function in society.
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