Euthanasia is an issue that has stirred a lot of controversy in many countries and at international forums as to whether it should be legalized or illegalized. This has led to many justifications to support either sides by the proponents and the opponents of its legalization. This essay is aimed at finding a level ground asfar as euthanasia is concerned. It defines the various types of euthanasia, the causes and significance of euthanasia in society.
Euthanasia is defined as the process through which patients suffering from terminal illness and who are undergoing great pain are deliberately allowed to die as a way of relieving them their long suffering and pain. It is also referred by many scholars as mercy killing as it is mainly based on the assumptions that the patient is in great pain and needs a lot of help to end the suffering. The assumptions that the patient is in need of great help to reduce the suffering makes the whole issue of euthanasia applicable since there are no other means of making the patient not to feel any pain. It should be noted that euthanasia is performed by a trained and qualified medical doctor but when this is not the case, then the whole thing becomes murder or suicide. This essay aims at outlining the moral, ethical, and legal implications of practicing euthanasia in society.
Apart from having the above mentioned definition of euthanasia as deliberate killing for the sake of enabling patients with terminal illness end their pain and suffering, euthanasia has other definitions based on the consent and the procedureapplied to the process of euthanasia. These are the most common classifications used in euthanasia.
Definition Based on the Procedure Used
The procedure used in administering euthanasia is very critical in determining the definition and type of euthanasia and the moral, legal and ethical implications. In this case, there are two types of euthanasia most commonly referred to as active and passive euthanasia. These can further be divided into active positive euthanasia and passive negative euthanasia. Active euthanasia is the process where a person is assisted to die through the administration of legal drugs to kill the patient. It is referred to as positive since it is done after an elaborate medical diagnosis that reveals that the patient has no chances of recovering. The relatives and all family members are informed well in advance and have to agree to it before any step is taken.
Passive euthanasia is the process where a patient is left to die through switching off the life saving machine or denying him/her food, water, medication or proper care. This is also referred to as negative euthanasia since it involves the deliberate killing of a patient by denying the patient the necessary basic needs (Terman 2007).
These two definitions of euthanasia are thus based on the assumption that although euthanasia is a deliberate intention with a will to kill, the process should be done in a morally viable way likethe injection of lethal drugs to kill the patient and not the deliberate termination of people’s life through denying them their basic needs.
Definition Based on Consent
Another definition of euthanasia is based on the consent of the patients and is classified into three main categories. These are voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia (Terman 2007). Just like the name suggests voluntary euthanasia is the process where a terminally ill patient requests for his/her life to be terminated due to excessive suffering and pain that have no prospects of subsiding. The doctors are, thus, given the directive to adopt any method to ensure that the patient is dead and hence end his/her suffering.
Non-voluntary euthanasia is a process that involves termination of patients’ lives to relieve them from great pain and suffering without their consent or knowledge.
This may be due to the fact that the patient is too young or too old and, therefore, is not able to request for termination of their lives. It is also performed on patients who are very sick and can not make any decisions since the sickness has incapacitated them or people who are in coma. This type of euthanasia is also performed on people with mental instability who do not have the ability to make rational and sound decisions.
The third euthanasia is involuntary euthanasia that involves the termination of a patients life without their consent and more so against their wishes. It should be noted that in this case, the patients do not want to die regardless of the magnitude of pain and suffering they are experiencing (Byock 2008). They insist on being put on life supporting machines and life prolonging drugs but the relatives insist that the patient must die to help them against experiencing great pain and suffering. The justification is usually based on the fact that the expenses incurred are too much yet there are no prospects of recovering.
Reasons in Favor of Euthanasia
Euthanasia saves bed space in hospitals. It has been noted the world over that most patients who are suffering from terminal illness spend most of their last days in hospitals where they receive maximum treatment from doctors (Wanzer 2008).
Most relatives of such patients usually consider them to be safe while they are admitted in hospitals than when they are being nursed from their homes. In the event that they are admitted in hospitals, they occupy the beds for many days before they finally succumb to their ailments.
The proponents of legalization of euthanasia state that these beds should be used by other patients who have higher prospects of recovering when they are given proper care by the doctors. Therefore, it is very important that all patients who have no prospects of recovering are left to die to give room for availability of bed space in hospitals for other patients with hopes of recovering.
Secondly, euthanasia gives medical staff more time to attend to other patients who have curable diseases that require immediate attention. The proponents of the practice of euthanasia argue that when terminally ill patients are allowed to die, the medical doctors will have enough time to attend to the fewer patients on the waiting lists without a hurry or worry of seeing them within the shortest time possible (Humphrey 2002). It should be noted that all patients should have adequate time for diagnosis by the doctors to evaluate their conditions and take the required actions.
Thirdly,euthanasia saves on the drugs and fluids used in the sustenance of patients with terminal illness. Most patients with terminal illness usually rely on fluids as their source of nutrition which is very expensive to acquire. The drugs used for ensuring that their lives are sustained and prolonged are also too costly beyond the rich of many families.
The proponents of euthanasia are fully convinced that when such patients’ lives are terminated the government, family and hospital will save a lot of money that should have been used in sustaining the lives of patients who have no prospects of recovering.
In addition, it should be noted that the patients suffering from terminal illness usually suffer for very long periods of time and their lives are sustained through the use of many drugs and fluids(Quill 2004). By the time a patient succumbs to illness, the amount of drugs and fluids used is usually too much and should have been used to attend to many other patients. The fact that these patients with terminal illness will never recover regardless of the amount of drugs and fluids used means that any attempts to sustain them is an exercise in futility.
The resultant effect is usually wastage of hospital drugs and fluids, medical kits and apparatus like syringes, injections and gloves. Such wastage can easily be avoided when the patients are allowed to die through the various methods of euthanasia. This factor influences many medical doctors to advise the family members of a terminally ill patient to adopt euthanasia as a worthy cause.
Moreover, mercy killing has been known world over as the most permanent method of relieving a patient great pain and suffering. When compared to other ways of relieving pain like the use of pain killers and other artificial drugs that work on a temporary basis, euthanasia becomes the most permanent method of ending pain and suffering (Byock 2008).
All known pain killers and relievers work well when a patient is undergoing pain that is short lived but people who are undergoing great pain due to terminal illness have euthanasia as the best option since it is a permanent solution to long term pain.
Furthermore, euthanasia is the most honorable form of exit from pain and suffering compared to other methods since it involves making informed choices in life. Apart from natural death that occurs due to old age, other causes of death are unjustified and are totally against the moral expectations of the community.
With proper counseling and guidance of the patient and the family members, euthanasia becomes a morally acceptable practice that is used to end the long suffering of patients with no hopes of recovering. The proponents of euthanasia strongly believe that people should never be allowed to suffer so much while there is honorable way of ending their suffering through mercy killing.
Lastly, the proponents of euthanasia argue that the life of a human being is guided by the principle of autonomy. This means that people have the right to choose what they want to do with their lives without any other person interfering with their decisions (Humphrey 2002). They propose that when people are subjected to great pain and suffering due to long time illness that has no prospect of being cured, they are entitled to the right to terminate their lives without any restrictions from their family members, the authorities or the doctors. Since people have the right of doing anything they want with their lives, whenever they desire to die due to too much pain and suffering caused by diseases they should be assisted to die peacefully without any interferences.
However, there are many other opponents that view euthanasia from a different, moral, legal, and professional points of view. They advocate for abolishment of euthanasia and illegalizing its practice regardless of the reasons put forward to justify it. They have advanced many reasons to prove that euthanasia should not be permitted in society and some of the main reasons advanced include the following.
Many religious organizations and affiliations believe that euthanasia is against their spiritual doctrines that advocates for the sustenance of life. They believe that human life is sacred and should be respected by everybody (Nitschke 2011).
The Christian teachings and doctrines are based on the belief that it is only God who has the right to determine how long an individual lives and when he/she dies. This religion and many others believe that it is a sin to kill regardless of the good intentions of the act and that all sinners will be punished. In case of any suffering or pain, an individual is always advised to pray very hard since pain and suffering are manifestations of the temptations that Satan is trying to use in order to shake their faith.
Secondly, the medical fraternity strongly advocates for the upholding of the Hippocratic Oath that emphasizes on the need to ensure that human life is preserved and protected at all costs (Orfall 2011). The main intention and mission of medical doctors is to ensure that all diseases are treated through all the ways possible and available. Many researches being carried on by many medical scientists are aimed at discovering the various ways through which diseases can be cured easily.
This further puts much emphasis on the nee to protect and value human life and no one should terminate patients’ life on grounds of relieving them great pain and suffering. The medical oath acts as a guide to doctors to ensure all sick people are given all the necessary attention to recover and death should occur as a result of forces beyond their control.
It is also argued that miracles do happen and so one day there may be a cure for today’s stubborn diseases. It is, thus, very much advisable not to make rash decisions of terminating a patient’s life but wait until when their natural death occurs.
Fourthly, legalizing euthanasia will lead to its abuse and misuse in society and, therefore, extended to individuals that people do not like in societies (Terman 2007). Many families have people who are terminally ill and they perceive them as burdens to them due to their inability to do anything for themselves. When euthanasia is legalized, it may be extended to such members of the family on grounds of helping them against lifetime suffering and the unnecessary time wasted in attending to them. Some families have very old people hidden in their backyards and constrained to unhygienic conditions.
Euthanasia will promote the execution of such members of their society who without their own making, have fallen into these categories. Medicine is not an exact science and human beings are prone to errors. This means that not all medical diagnoses are perfect to an extent that they are taken as the last word. The fact that a person has been diagnosed to be suffering from terminal illness should not give the society the chance to pass judgments on them and condemn such patients to death through euthanasia.
Sometimes, medical doctors make mistakes of omission or commission due to their subjectivity on the conditions of the patient or their psychological orientations at the time of diagnosis (Quill 2004). When such mistakes are taken as the final word, it means that all the subsequent activities will be wrongly done as a result of wrong diagnosis. When a patient suffering from long term illness is euthanized, there will be no second chance to try and diagnose whether the patient is recovering or not since death is irreversible and the doctors are not given a second chance to correct their mistakes.
Euthanasia leads to loss of respect for human life. When a simple decision of terminating the life of a patient suffering from terminal illness is made by another person, it means that the life of that patient is in the hands of the decision maker. This further illustrates that life of any human being can easily be terminated by those who are perceived to be in charge of making such decisions. This means that the value of human life becomes useless as anybody can terminate it at his/her own will.
In addition, many people prefer having a sick person in their homes or in hospitals than having a dead body. This is based on the assumption that having a sick person in the house or hospital gives the family members hope that one day the person will recover and regain full health.
Everybody hates death and immediately a person dies, the society’s perception changes and even the closest friends and family members dissert the body. It is very important to note that the difference between life and death is very thin but the implications are immense to the living and the dead. Suffering is universal and every body must suffer in one way or another at a given time.
Sociologists and psychologists argue that human life is marked by various stages and forms of pain and suffering. Therefore, individuals should never despair and lose hope on the grounds that they or their family members are suffering great pain as a result of terminal illness (Wanzer 2008). People should strive to endure suffering regardless of the magnitude and expenses incurred in the process of seeking better medication for people suffering from terminal illness.
The society should develop mechanisms that are aimed at promoting social interactions to boost the morale of those members who have relatives suffering from terminal illness.
Lastly, people do not have an outright right to their lives. Despite the fact that people are given the chance of deciding what they want to do with their lives at any given time, their actions should not compromise the rights of other people in the family and society at large. For instance, if a man suffering from terminal illness requests for euthanasia, the doctors should not grant it to him without the consent of the wife and children. This is because the wife requires emotional support from him and the children require parental love from both parents. As long as there are other members of the family who depend on the patient for support, euthanasia will never be an option to end suffering and pain of the patient.
It should be noted that euthanasia is a practice that should be given proper consultations before being adopted to ensure that all members of the family are aware and have agreed to it.
Human beings are subjected to many activities that expose them to joy and suffering at equal measures. This means that all human beings experience almost similar situations although with varied degrees and magnitude. It should be noted that death is the only occurrence that has surpassed human understanding and will remain to be a puzzle for many years to come. However, it is for the best interest of the patient and the relatives to consider whether euthanasia is a solution to end pain and suffering to patients suffering from terminal illness or not.
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Humphrey, D. (2002). Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. New York: Delta Publishers.
Nitschke, P. (2010). The Peaceful Pill Handbook. London: Exit Publishers.
Orfall, R. (2011). Death with Dignity: The Case for Legalizing Physician-Assisted Dying and Euthanasia. New York: Mill City Press.
Quill, T. (2004). Death and Dignity: Making Choices and Taking Charge. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Terman, S. (2007). The Best Way to Say Goodbye: Alegal Peace.New York: Life Transitions Publishers.
Wanzer, S.(2008). To Die Well: Your Right to Comfort, Calm and Choice in the Last Days of Life. New York: De Capo Press.