Ethics of Euthanasia

Life or Death-Whose decision is it? Does the state have the right to restrict or prohibit a terminally ill person from seeking an assisted suicide? Termed mercy killing, euthanasia has been and continues to be an issue of controversy. This is not the first time that this battle has been waged. Debates about the ethics of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide date from Ancient Greece and Rome. Euthanasia is the latest issue in the rights of privacy. It is the solution to cease prolonged suffering for the terminally ill patient. Legally, euthanasia should be the choice of the individual. No other authority should be imposed.

Euthanasia is best defined “as the deliberate infliction of death on a person who is suffering from an incurable disease” (Websters 240). This may be done actively, such as administering a lethal drug, or passively, by withholding treatment. Legal authorities, church leaders, philosophers and commentators on ethics and morality usually treat passive euthanasia differently from active euthanasia. Active euthanasia has negative connotations, having become confused with the genocide of defective individuals practiced by the Nazis. We can quickly slide into easy and irrelevant mercy killing for unjustifiable reasons and then on into the institutionalized and established practice of euthanasia for economic purposes. Although this raises a few good points, one can also see euthanasia as an individual choice, not just for economic and social purposes. A patient in great pain may see euthanasia as a merciful and dignified way to die. In the article “Fatal Choice”, Mary Hall states, “To ask my family to help while I’m dying is a terrible burden. I can’t stand the humiliation of them taking care of me as I fade into some smelly dying person” (People 82). Euthanasia grants people social and personal benefits. It can be planned out through living wills. Another point to be raised is that euthanasia may take a life, but it can also give back many more lives through organ donations. Sometimes a patient who will be unplugged from a machine may go on to be a multiple organ donor.

Medical Ethics are crucial concerning euthanasia. While in various cases, it has been approved to withhold medical treatment, we must remember physicians are sworn to protect life not end it. The American Medical Association accepts the doctrine of euthanasia by the withdrawing of life supports from brain dead patients. They reclassified food and water as a medical treatment, not basic nursing care. Therefore, the patient’s tubes that give them nourishment may be discontinued (Behnke and Bok 91). The Veterans Administration agrees with the American Medical Association on this point. The reclassification of food and water as medical treatment is a form of euthanasia which is being accepted today.

An argument in favor of euthanasia and the living will may find a basis in the following quote. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; . . .” (United States Declaration of Independence). This quote sets in motion the argument that each person has the right to decide what type of life is best for them. A death with dignity may be preferred to a life of pain and suffering.

The living will has been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by the legislation. This legal document directs medical staff in patient care. The living will is defined as a document instructing family and physicians about what should or should not be done in the event that a person is unable to make or communicate a decision about their medical treatment. The patient in great pain may not be competent. The patient must have chosen death through the living will. “The courts have ruled that a person must be rational to chose death and that a person in horrible pain cannot make a rational decision” (Mental and Physical Disability 311-312). By using the living will an important aspect of our future may be assured. Our family may also be spared great emotional pain through its use. Another argument we should look at with living wills is for the same reasons pro-life groups oppose abortion. We must be as diligent in fighting euthanasia. With utmost energy we must urge and pray that the Supreme Court will not repeat the horror that has been Roe vs. Wade. There is a big difference in abortion and euthanasia. Fetuses cannot talk nor communicate with us and tell us how they feel, but persons considering euthanasia can be heard through the living will. People opposing euthanasia think it is cruel to “pull the plug”, but one must remember that most times it is the patients wishes.

The following case study is an example of euthanasia. It will reinforce the use of euthanasia as a solution for the terminally ill and suffering patient. Daniel Fiori was fed through a gastronomy tube inserted into his intestines. He was in a persistent vegetative state for twenty years, and it is undisputed that his condition would never improve. His mother, who also was his appointed guardian, had been his care supervisor throughout those years. When Fiori’s mother decided that his treatment should be terminated, the nursing home requested a court order. The court ruled that the mother who had approval of two treating physicians did not need court approval. The Attorney General appealed the disconnection of the life support tube. The Supreme Court granted her request in 1990 and Daniel was finally released to death at last (Mental and Physical Disability 311-312).

Many call euthanasia murder. Would it, however, not have been merciful to end Daniel Fiori’s life? The nursing home, along with the courts, drew out the process which could have been ended. The financial, emotional, and physical problems that his family suffered could have been eliminated had the solution of active euthanasia been applied to Daniel earlier.

Other opponents of euthanasia view life as holy. God alone must decide when and how life must begin and end. The commandment “thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is the argument. Doctors shall not kill is the foremost rule of medicine. Healing is a physicians priority, because it allows patients to trust their doctors. “Physicians are always tired by patients not getting better.” “Once they think of death as a treatment option then physicians simply give in to their weaknesses” (US News and World Report 35).

Even though euthanasia is considered for economic and social purposes, the loss of one life through euthanasia may lead to many more prolonged lives. One major factor influencing the current change in the public, medical, and legal views of euthanasia is the dramatically increased use of human organs. The organ donor program has brought to forefront the needs and uses of good organs from brain dead individuals.

Too often, terminally ill patients view death as inevitably painful and assisted suicide is seen as an act of logic. The National Hospice Organization is against the legalization of euthanasia and calling for caution. “It is not an act of caring, but an act of killing.” “Patients do not have to die with unrelieved suffering” (People, Levy 91).

Donna White, a thirty-seven year old woman suffering from coronary artery disease, didn’t want to die in pain or be an emotional and financial burden to her family. A how-to-kill-yourself guide would help her end her life. This was before she knew of hospice care and pain management. She no longer plots her non suicide. “Once I got my pain under control, I started thinking with my heart” (US News and world Report 34). The public is poorly informed about the advances of pain management.” “Hospices are one way of maximizing the quality of life in the final days” (People, Levy 91).

It is suggested that euthanasia may become a mercy killing used for economical and social reasons, but actually it is for the patent’s personal benefit. Living wills provide people with information on what patients want done in case of tragedy, and organ donation allows us to see that euthanasia can be used for the benefit of other people. It is argued that a doctor is playing the same role when he terminates a life. Hospice doesn’t consider assisted suicide the equivalent of death with dignity. Respite services with palliative care, especially pain control and symptom relief, are an essential component. The sanctity of life needs to be respected.

We are in the midst of a deep battle over the legalization of euthanasia, a battle that has profound implications for the care of the terminally ill, the aged person, and for the social understanding of medicine. Americans have found that the more they consider euthanasia, the more difficult it becomes to resolve.

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