An Ethical Assessment of Euthanasia

Euthanasia is defined as the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment. The controversy that surrounds euthanasia has helped make it a serious ethical question that ought to be addressed in a serious, respectful manner. The most important way to address the question of euthanasia is that of the most apparent desire for one’s own suicide, pain and suffering.

If it can be reduced that patients who are in severe and irreversible pain, then it is in their best interest to abstain from said discomforts, in the nature of true utility. For, it is utility (in the classical sense) that is defined as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. The question of euthanasia can perhaps be best answered by the act utilitarian ethical model. Act utilitarianism is defines a moral act as that of which is morally permissible only if its consequences will yield at least as much, or more (actual or expected) utility as those of any other act. We cannot simply initiate voluntary suicide on every patient in serious pain, but it should be a serious option when compared with the consequences of other, less viable alternatives.
There are specifically five conditions in which the ethical question of euthanasia can be addressed. Candidates for voluntary suicide are must exhibit certain characteristics to render the situation plausible for ending their own life. These characteristics include:

1. suffering from a terminal illness;

2. unlikely to benefit from the discovery of a cure for that illness during what remains of her life expectancy;

3. as a direct result of the illness, either suffering intolerable pain, or only has available a life that is unacceptably burdensome (because the illness has to be treated in ways which lead to her being unacceptably dependent on others or on technological means of life support);

4. has an enduring, voluntary and competent wish to die (or has, prior to losing the competence to do so, expressed a wish to die in the event that conditions (a)-(c) are satisfied); and

5. unable without assistance to commit suicide.

Act utilitarianism can then be applied to come to a conclusion that a patient suffering from these traumas/ailements/disabilities, is then in a considerable position where the utility of euthanasia outweighs the utility of all other possible alternatives.

To suffer from a terminal illness presents an individual with the ultimate knowledge of his foreshadowing death. This unbearable toll to carry on in life takes away a lot of the power in which we feel we have over our own existence. To bear the consequences of such knowledge (of one’s own impending death) might be more than a patient may be willing to deal with. Such is the case with many of those who seek voluntary suicide services. Many of the candidates for euthanasia are terminally ill cancer patients, choosing to die in a more dignified manner on their own terms, as a means of controlling their final hours. The second condtion refers to when a patient’s status is labeled as “incurable.” Since medical breakthroughs are painstaking, and often times don’t benefit the patient whom has limited time left, candidates at later stages of degenerated health will reap minimum to no benefits of said cures.

The third conditoin recognizes the important aspect of the dying, the troubles and tribulations of a burdensome life, not only on themselves, but others as well. For a grown adult to eventually become completely or partially dependent on their children, spouses, etc. can make live unimaginably difficult. Pain is not the only reason for which people seek to end their lives, but rather a significant amount of patients simply want to end the burden that has become their lives.

The fourth point renders the quality and state of mind of the patient when decisions to end his life are made. A patient must be of stable, competent, sound mind in order to legally push for the termination of his own life. If the patient becomes unstable and or unconscious, then the decision must have been made in a completely conscious state prior to the regression of health status. This is to abstain from allowing quick, rash decision based on immediate premises of emotional/physical trauma. However, this clause establishes (typically) that the decision making skills of the average adult (18 and older) are to be defined as competent, and capable of making enduring decisions.

Finally, voluntary suicide can be looked upon as a more humane means for the termination of one life (upon request) for those whom are incapable of providing that service to oneself. A capable man or woman, destined by their own mental state/desire to kill themselves, is going to follow through by any means necessary. This does not count pseudo-provocative attempts at ending one’s life for attention, but serious candidates whom seek to sincerely end their own life. Voluntary suicide offers a terminal, suffering patient a chance to escape the torments of prolonged life, in a respectulf, dignified manner with their friends and family by their side (most voluntary suicides take place at home with loved ones).

According to the tenets of act utilitarianism, a moral act is something that results in the greatest amount of utility (for the greatest good) in which the end result is of equal or greater utility than any other possible act. In terms of facing imminent death, the alternatives are getting more solmn and less optimistic. The ultimate choice is between death under your own provisions, your own terms or prolonging life and increasing the burdensome presence, the pain, and the sacrifice of autonomy. This brings up a key consequence of the whole moral question of euthanasia, the importance of autonomy. Measures have to be taken and considered in weighing the moral autonomy of the patient, as well as the medical professional whom is assisting the suicide. However, how does one weigh one over the other? Does the terminally ill patient have mora superiority over a conscious doctor whom holds his own moral objections to euthanasia? These are serious questions that further the debate over the legalization of voluntary suicide.

In conclusion, the consequential evidence that evokes a sense of utilitarian pragmatism in evaluating life or death situations (in terms of terminal patients) must fall on the side of death. Death can be an escape from the immeasurable pains and burdens of life, and the greatest utility can often be found at the end of life, rather than the beginning. When weighing in the consequnces, the basic principles of utility require that we examine the mere quality of life, not simply the prolonging of it. Prolonging life without increasing quality directly, is a pointless and futile act, for what good is sheer abundance in something that does not bring us pleasure or enjoyment?

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