Euthanasia is defined as the intentional conduct of painlessly ending the life of a person suffering from a painful and eternal disease to let go of the suffering and pain. The definition applies in general terms and in medicine (Cioffi, 2019). Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word euthanatos that means “easy death.”
According to the bioethical definition, euthanasia is an act of omission, through withdrawing provision of healthcare or by administering an authorized drug, that by intention or by itself causes a person to die in order to end their pain and suffering (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). Patients who choose this kind of death need to be accorded spiritual and psychological support, care and the pain need to be minimized for them to die naturally with dignity.
In general, people’s faith has an impact on the way they perceive matters of health, especially pain and suffering. The Christian faith believes that pain and suffering are part of spirituality because Jesus Crist also persevered pain and suffering. It is for this reason that the catholic faith does not in any way or form support euthanasia as a way of ending the patient’s pain and suffering (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). Their faith teaches that pain and suffering will at one point be overcome through believing in the word of God.
Physician-Assisted Suicide / Death (PAS / PAD) is the intentional act of a person to end their life using lethal medication provided and administered by a physician. PAS / PAD has been a controversial topic for a long time, but in recent times, several states in the United States have stepped in to provide the necessary legal framework under which the practice can be conducted (Cioffi, 2019). Oregon was the first state to provide the necessary legislation, followed by Washington, California, and Vermont showing the continuous legal evolution of the practice.
The sensitivity of the practice raises fundamental ethical issues for both the physician and the patient. On the one hand, PAS / PAD is considered an act of compassion for the suffering patient and therefore it is appropriate to end their life with dignity. However, the issue has been opposed vehemently by various religious groupings who argue that it is against the will of God (Cioffi, 2019). Both sides offer an ethical dilemma that is hard to resolve, especially considering that medicine is a highly ethical profession.
People should have the right to end their life. Even from the religious perspective, God has given us the power to choose over right or wrong. As human beings, we should also allow people the freedom to choose their own fate. If a person feels PAS / PAD is helpful to them as long as it is their independent choice, I will support them.
Hospice and palliative care are both alternatives to PAS / PAD that aim to relieve a patient of the pain and bring some form of comfort. Palliative care helps the seriously ill patients but whose life is not in danger to endure the pain caused by the disease. It is commonly used on patients who suffer from HIV, AIDS, cancer, kidney illness, diabetes, or on side effects that result from these conditions. On the other hand, hospice care involves patients who are not expected to recover from their illnesses and who may die within six months. Apart from helping to ease the pain, it helps the patients to prepare for the end of their life (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). Hospice care is usually offered at home or at the hospital under the care of relatives, counselors, the clergy, and specialized caregivers.
The Hemlock Society was founded by Dr. Humphry in 1980 in Los Angeles, USA. The term Hemlock is borrowed from the Greeks and symbolizes a cup of venomous herbs administered to Socrates by his Athenian adversaries (Quill and Cassel, 2019). The society aims to promote euthanasia as a way of ending life.
Jack Kevorkian is a renowned physician and advocate of assisted suicide. He was able to assist over 130 terminally ill people to die in person. He came into the limelight in the 1980s as a strong supporter of euthanasia and was instrumental in pushing for legislation of euthanasia (Quill & Cassel, 2019). He died in 2011 after spending close to one month in the hospital due to pneumonia.
Britanny Maynard proclaimed her decision to end her life on November 1, 2014, after being diagnosed with an eternal stage 4 malicious brain tumor. Her announcement revived the debate on assisted suicide across the United States, especially among the young population (Quill & Cassel, 2019). She died at the tender age of 29 years by taking a bout of barbiturates after months of enduring pain and suffering.
The Catholic teachings do not advocate for assisted death or euthanasia in any way. They state that the patients should be given proper care to help them manage pain and suffering so that they can die with dignity and comfortably (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). Catholics support the use of any form of medication that will reduce pain regardless of whether it will shorten the patient’s life.
Cioffi, A. (2019). BIO 603 EUTH PAS 3 30 19 (Video). YouTube. Web.
Quill, T.E., and Cassel, C.K. (2019). Professional organizations’ position statements on physician-assisted suicide: a case for studied neutrality. Annual International Medicine, 138(3):208-211. Web.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (2018). Ethical and religious directives for catholic health care services. 6th ed. Digital Edition.