Euthanasia is one of the solutions for people suffering from various incurable diseases and sicknesses that are too painful for them to handle. It is also a controversial issue, which provoked some of the most heated debates in the last several decades. In some countries of the world, euthanasia is already made legal, for example, in Netherlands and Belgium, and in other countries, there are propositions to do so. However, the issue remains extremely controversial and difficult to approach.
The term euthanasia and phenomenon itself is very old and originated in ancient Greece (in Greek euthanasia means “good death”). Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Stoics believed that euthanasia was morally acceptable. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not believe that life needed to be preserved at any cost and were tolerant of suicide in cases if they were not able to offer help to a person or if that person did not care for his life any longer.
Contrary to ancient Greece, in the contemporary world, views on euthanasia differ dramatically, and two different sides of the conflict are not able to find consensus. Advocates of assisted suicide argue that it can become a manifestation of mercy and respect to human dignity, while opponents see it as murder and breaking the most sacred Hippocratic oath.
Euthanasia raises several moral dilemmas. On the one hand, euthanasia is the most painless way to kill a person out of mercy considerations and is usually administered when there is no chance for a person to return to normal life without suffering and pain. On the other hand, euthanasia is still a killing of a human being and a termination of life. Who is to decide in which cases euthanasia can be applied? What is the limit of pain that can be considered unbearable? And which diseases are incurable? All these questions are extremely difficult to answer objectively. At the heart of the argument is different views on the value of human life and meaning of our existence.
The term euthanasia has been used in Nazi Germany. This term referred to killing disabled adults and children under so-called T-4 Euthanasia Program. There is a view that euthanasia should not be legalized, even it is considered moral, because of the possible abuses it can lead to. Euthanasia in Nazi Germany is obviously an extreme example. However, it is possible to imagine that euthanasia can lead to cases of abuses even in our society. Insurance companies may put too much pressure on medical staff to avoid costly measures and recommend assisted-suicide procedure instead. As one of the studies conducted in the United States shows, 54 percent of patients who received assisted suicide did not make the request themselves, but rather the decision to hasten death came from physicians and family members.
Opponents of euthanasia argue that we have no right to decide who should live and who should die. Life is sacred and is therefore worthy of protection no matter in what circumstance it should present itself. Nature has set out the cycle for when life should begin as well as the end. Since humanity has created advanced technology, it has taken over nature’s duty. Men have now the ability to decide whether life should carry on or not. Those who are against euthanasia also argue that any patient should be allowed to live for as long as possible, since cases of what might be considered miraculous recoveries have been documented.
When talking about euthanasia, we usually focus on a patient. However, there is also another side to the story. A terminally ill person when asking for euthanasia is handing over his or her spiritual pain to someone else. Opponents of euthanasia point out that we should remember about doctors, nurses and other medical staff who will have to meet the necessity to take moral and social responsibilities for killing people. “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)
Another argument which opponents of assisted suicide present are the fact that pain and illnesses lead to new studies, development of new medications and medical progress. As Brock put it, “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”. Studies show that patients who are most likely to seek euthanasia are those diagnosed with cancer, neurological disease, and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). If we as the society agree at some point that one of the diseases in incurable, it is possible that we will also minimize our efforts in finding a cure.
Euthanasia is being increasingly accepted by society. Nowadays more Americans agree that assisted murder may be reasonable than some 50 years ago. Statistics regarding pro-choice state that after the WWII only about 30% of Americans supported mercy killing, while in the 1990s some 60% of Americans approved euthanasia. Many people agree that as soon as a person loses rational thinking, reasoning, and the human will, it is ok to initiate mercy killing. In one of the surveys, nearly two-thirds of oncology patients and the public agreed that euthanasia is acceptable if there is no hope of recovery.
However, not only physical but also psychological pain can cause a person to think about assisted suicide and extent of this pain is very hard to measure. At the same time, a question is whether a society has a right to tell a person which amount of pain he or she has to bare. Proponents of euthanasia argue that assisted suicide is the best solution in some severe cases. For instance, brain-dead patients who do not have qualities pertinent to humans such as free will, thinking and reasoning need to be let die. At the same time, research conducted in the USA and the Netherlands show that less than a third of requests for euthanasia were because of severe pain. People might be asking for euthanasia because of depression or fearing loss of control or dignity.
Euthanasia sharpens the problem of wrong diagnostics. Wrong treatment can be corrected, but a wrong diagnosis which leads to euthanasia does not leave this opportunity. Patients have to make a choice whether to die or stay alive based on physicians’ words. However, as statistics show, doctors make mistakes. In 2005, the Journal of American Medical Association reported that studies of autopsies revealed that doctors made a wrong diagnosis 10 percent of the time. Other studies reveal that physicians who receive euthanasia requests are not likely to consult their colleagues.
All that being, I strongly believe that the right to die should be a fundamental right each person. However, this right should be exercised carefully, and we as a society should set some limitations. Euthanasia should be legally allowed only in extremely severe cases where several doctors agree that a person is terminally ill and has no chances of being cured. As it has already been said, patients suffering from depression are more likely to ask for assisted suicide. Such patients should be examined and, where appropriate, treated for depression before euthanasia can be discussed seriously. The legislature should be detailed and precise so that there is no room for abuses; certain guidelines should be developed and adhered to. Moreover, there should be a nation-wide committee in charge of making final decisions and closely monitoring every case.
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Reference list: Barry, V. (1982). Moral aspects Of health care. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Brock, D. (1989). Deciding for others. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brody, B. (1988). Life and death decision making. New York: Oxford University Press. Keown, J. (2002). Euthanasia, ethics and public policy: an argument against legalization, New York: Cambridge University Press. Moreno, J. (2004). Arguing Euthanasia: The controversy over mercy killing, assisted suicide, and the “right to die”. New York: Random House. Torr, J. D. (2000). Euthanasia: opposing viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.