Euthanasia is one of the most controversial issues in the modern health care environment. There is a variety of points of view concerning the practice of the life termination of the patient. Supporters of euthanasia refer to the idea that every patient has personal rights to decide how to end his or her life. Nevertheless, the society is still deeply assured that nobody has the right to take person’s life. Consequently, health care workers face difficulty in making the proper decision concerning the right to the assisted suicide. Patients’ rights, beliefs in society, and the ethical position of health care workers comprise the controversy concerning euthanasia.
Rights of the Patient as a Valuable Ground for Euthanasia
The practice of euthanasia can be justified by the fact that every patient has the right to cease terrible sufferings that cannot be cured. According to Buka (2014), even some Ancient Greek philosophers recognized the situations in which the death could be the most appropriate option for patients. The Hippocratic Oath requires physicians to enhance and maintain the quality of life of their patients. Obviously, there are cases where the support of life is nothing more but sufferings. In such a situation, the patient should have the right to ask for assisted death.
Patient’s suffering from unstoppable pain is selfish and painful. Euthanasia aims at the stopping of such health condition. It should be noted that there are different types of euthanasia. Their legalization varies across the world. When the doctor administers death-providing chemical for the patient, it is active euthanasia. Physician-assisted suicide is another option of active euthanasia when the person asks the doctor to prescribe drugs that will shorten or end life. Passive euthanasia is a practice of stopping treatment with no further interventions because it will not bring any positive outcomes. Euthanasia may also be voluntary or involuntary. When the patient is mentally capable of making such a decision, it is voluntary assisted suicide. When the patient cannot decide for him or herself, it is an involuntary euthanasia (Buka, 2014).
The issue of euthanasia legalization is still controversial. Despite the fact that everybody should have such right, there are many concerns that the legalization of euthanasia may lead to the transformations in human culture. Bruenig (2015) investigates this problem taking Belgium as an example. Belgium is one of the several countries where euthanasia is legal. It is the country where patients’ rights are taken into consideration. The statistics show that euthanasia rate increased almost by 27% in Belgium in the period between 2012 and 2013. There were cases when patients requested assisted suicide just because they felt unhappy. Bruenig (2015) states that it is not always right as far as “it doesn’t seem to make so much sense to declare death the same kind of life that right is: death does not share the same inherent value” (p. 14). Nevertheless, death does not possess the same value if speaking about normal healthy lives. The problem is that when the person suffers from terrible pain, death should not be regarded as something bad. Even more, if the patient acknowledges that death will bring only relief, it is the obligation of the physician to fulfill such desire.
Beliefs of Society against Euthanasia
In most cases, society dispraises euthanasia due to the widespread beliefs. These beliefs are based on religion. In Christianity, euthanasia, like abortion, is a controversial subject. There is no universal opinion concerning the problem. However, the beliefs of most people do not allow the intended termination of life. Christians believe in the sanctity of life. Life is the gift from the God, and nobody has the right to take it. They live according to these two rules. Many people believe that it is better to provide necessary support and caring environment for everyone even when there is no hope for the treatment. Nevertheless, most religious groups agree that if a person is a “brain-dead”, there is no need to support his or her life. That is the only case when society has nothing against euthanasia (Keene, 2002).
Many people believe that doctors have to do everything possible to maintain patient’s life irrespective of his or her condition and sufferings. It should also be noted, that the usage of drugs that relieve pain is not censured. It is called “the law of double-effect”. Still, the practice shows that society is still deeply biased even against the essential palliative care. According to Goldstein et al. (2012), there were numerous cases where families of patients who died after palliative care accused doctors of murders. Goldstein et al. (2012) provide an example writing that “in 2005, efforts to stop artificial hydration and nutrition for Terry Schiavo, a young woman in a persistent vegetative state, resulted in a public controversy and were depicted in national media reports as murder” (p. 334). Such instances are widespread, and they prove the fact that society is not ready to accept euthanasia as the human approach to the care of terminally ill patients.
Ethical Dilemma for Health Care Professionals
All health care workers face the moral dilemma when it comes to the decision-making concerning the euthanasia. Some arguments support and confront the idea of intentional life termination. According to Lo (2013), the respect of patient’s autonomy is one of the significant factors. Many patients do not want their family to see them in terrible condition. That is why they request assisted suicide. Doctors have to respect their decisions. The other factor in favor of euthanasia is that prolonged suffering is inhuman. In this case, euthanasia is a manifestation of compassion. Nevertheless, there is the other side of the ethical dilemma.
Those who do not want take care of the terminally ill patients may promote euthanasia as well. Keown (2003) provides an example of Dutch experience of euthanasia legalization. Although there have been guidelines for euthanasia, profound investigations have shown that some doctors did not follow them and terminated patients’ lives due to their personal desire and evaluation. This example proves the fact that euthanasia may lead to the adverse increase of doctor’s power over patient’s life and death.
Finally, some opponents believe that palliative care is always the option to terminally ill patients. When the physician avoids it, it undermines medical excellence and doctor’s commitment to relieving suffering. One more aspect that comprises the ethical dilemma is the risk of the slippery slope. For instance, some patients suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and do not want to be a burden for their families. They are not terminally ill, but their condition brings them and their families suffering too. Health care workers face a serious dilemma in such a case as well.
Euthanasia remains the controversial topic as far as there is no direct answer concerning its effectiveness or necessity. The patient’s inalienable right to life presupposes having the right to decide about life termination. However, society is still not ready to accept euthanasia due to the deeply rooted beliefs in the sanctity of life. Considering all these facts, health care workers face a serious ethical dilemma regarding the proper decision-making about euthanasia.
Bruenig, E. S. (2015). How to Think About Your Right to Die. New Republic, 246(9/10), 13-15.
Buka, P. (2014). Patients’ Rights, Law and Ethics for Nurses. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Goldstein, N. E., Cohen, L. M., Arnold, R. M., Goy, E., Arons, S., & Ganzini, L. (2012). Prevalence of Formal Accusations of Murder and Euthanasia against Physicians. Journal Of Palliative Medicine, 15(3), 334-339.
Keene, M. (2002). GCSE Religious Studies: Religion in Life & Society Student Book for Edexcel/A. Dublin, Ireland: Folens Publishers.
Keown, J. (2003). Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legislation. Journal Of Legal Medicine, 24(3), 395-405.
Lo, B. (2013). Resolving Ethical Dilemmas. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.