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Euthanasia: A Right To Die Essay, Research Paper

Euthanasia, a Right to Die

By ruling euthanasia illegal, America’s justice system is violating one of our most natural rights, our freedom of choice. In all respects, the right to die is as natural as the right to live. Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “an easy and painless death or an act or method of causing death painlessly.” Euthanasia, when administered correctly and under the right conditions can be a humane and moral procedure. There are so many misconceptions and cliches surrounding euthanasia today that it has become very difficult to make an informed decision about the subject. By examining concepts, cases, and various ethical theories relating to euthanasia we are able to take a reasonable position on euthanasia. People may consider euthanasia as a means to end their lives for a variety of reasons. Among those are people that have been victims of accidents and suffer from extreme disabilities, people in comas or a persistent vegetative state and even people with mental illnesses. When talking about euthanasia there are several different terms that come into play. The phrases “active” and “passive” euthanasia are used to make distinctions about the role a person, namely a physician, plays in a person’s death by euthanasia. The doctor that engages in active euthanasia is an instrumental part in aiding in that person’s death. The doctor that engages in passive euthanasia is allowing a patient to die by with holding treatment and is usually not held accountable for the person’s death. There is also the issue of “voluntary” and “involuntary” euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia involves a competent adult consenting to or refusing treatment. On the other hand, involuntary euthanasia occurs when the patient in question does not make the decision regarding treatment. This paper will focus on and support active voluntary physician aided suicide as a form of euthanasia and the moral and legal implications involved with it.

There are four key arguments, which also translate into philosophical concerns, associated with euthanasia. The first is a person’s right to decide about his or her own life. People take for granted the life affecting choices they make on a daily basis, what career path to follow, when to marry, and when to have children– just to name a few. The decision of when to die, without legal intervention, should also be considered as one of these natural rights. The second philosophical concern is that denying terminally ill patients the “natural right” to die is unfair and cruel. This point goes hand in hand with the subject of ordinary versus extraordinary treatment. A terminally ill patient has and will continue to have the right to prolong their life by means of ordinary treatment such as medicines and surgeries that do not involve excessive pain, expense, etc. When it becomes impossible for a person to continue living by means of ordinary treatment they are next given the choice to sustain their life by means of extraordinary treatment or they are given the option of refusing treatment. Many people choose the latter option on the basis of extraordinary treatment being associated with methods deemed unusual, difficult, dangerous, and expensive. The reality of refusal of treatment is a grim one. “What can be crueler than to let terminally ill cancer patients starve to death or wait for pneumonia when we can end their misery immediately (AE 233)?” By denying these people and others in similar circumstances the choice of an easy and painless death, we are ultimately condemning them to an existence filled with pain and despair. A third argument for euthanasia is that, by not giving people the option of physician aided suicide, we are in violation of the golden rule. Luckily, the majority of people will never have to make a decision as intimate and serious as euthanasia. However, because it is a subject of debate in America, we must all ask ourselves what we would do in a similar situation. Most people would say that, if they were diagnosed with a terminal illness and were to find themselves constantly in unbearable, excruciating pain, they would prefer a quick, easy, painless death. While people are able to speed up the process of death by various means of suicide; drowning, poisoning, hanging, most would rather have some sort of physician aid in ending their lives. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, by deeming physician aided suicide illegal, we are in fact in violation of the golden rule. A fourth issue, which has also been very prominent in publicized debates over euthanasia, is the right to die with dignity. Does the right to die ignore the sanctity of life? Life is precious and so is the quality of life. Many people choose euthanasia as an escape from their pain, pain so severe that any chance to live a normal life is gone and all quality of life is lost. Also, many people with terminal illnesses find themselves incapable of caring for themselves and even though it is a sad realization, they can become a financial, physical and emotional burden on those people that are left to care for them. By allowing patients to end their lives before a disease takes over, leaving only a shadow of someone whom once was, people are allowed to die with dignity.

Now, more than ever, we are seeing a constant influx of cases regarding physician aided suicide and euthanasia in our court systems and in the news. Because doctors and legislatures have failed to create a clear, common definition of death, courts are constantly constructing and rewriting laws that were never meant to handle such a complex issue. In 1994 Judge Barbara Rothstein of the U.S. District Court in Seattle ruled that 140-year-old law forbidding terminally ill patients to seek assistance in ending their lives was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the fourteenth amendment. Three years later the state appealed the decision and the law was once again ruled constitutional (AE 267). Why was the law appealed and why haven’t there been more laws created to protect patients and doctors who participate in physician aided suicide? One possible reason is that the law in the 1994 case was not specific enough in terms of who is eligible, what conditions must be present, and punishment for violation of the law. The Netherlands seems to be one step ahead of the United States in this aspect. Recently their parliament made active euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide legal under a set of precise conditions involving nature, condition, consultation, reporting, et al. (AE 268). With a strict set of guidelines, America too could prevent the suffering of thousands of people affected with terminal illnesses and their families. Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, believe that in many situations the letter of the law is often a serious impediment to social progress (AE 232). As time has proved, a societies ideals and principles are usually reflected in the views of its well-regarded moralists and philosophers.

All people would in fact agree that killing under any circumstances is immoral and under this assumption many people will take a prima facia stance on euthanasia, this happens when a person looks at an issue and makes a decision without taking other factors into consideration. Decisions should not be made according to a standard set of moral rules or laws because all decisions are different and the outcome of them should be closely examined before a decision is reached that could best serve the interest of the majority of the people. According to author Richard Brandt, killing is wrong only if it is an injury to someone, by relieving someone’s pain you are not doing him or her injury, by allowing someone to suffer needlessly, you are. Another moral issue to take into consideration is that we must always obey the wishes of a rational person regarding their well being. While most people are considered happy, healthy, and leading a “good” life in general, life is not always good. Everyone has a right to life but it is what a person wants that counts (AE 244). According to the theories of utilitarian ethics, in life, pleasure is the only intrinsic value and pain is the only intrinsic evil. When continuing to live causes a person so much pain that it brings more evil than good a utilitarian could concede that physician aided suicide is indeed moral, possibly more moral than allowing that person to continue living. When making a decision, a utilitarian would consider which act would best support utility, which is described as “an act that promotes the most overall happiness” (Pojman 223). In cases where a person’s quality of life has diminished considerably, an act of euthanasia would best support utility. If a person feels they can do no good and have become a burden to the ones they love most, the choice of euthanasia produces the most desirable results. This concept personifies the most basic principle of utilitarian ethics “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. After considering the ideals of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, two highly esteemed philosophers, the debate over whether euthanasia is moral or immoral becomes nil.

Although it can be argued that euthanasia is not a “natural death” it can also be argued that life saving devices, medicines, and organ transplants are not natural. Just as doctors have been applauded for engineering new life saving techniques, we should applaud doctors who campaign for and engineer humane methods of physician aided suicide. Your life should be your own and if you do not have the choice when to let go of it, it will ultimately become the property of a few well-dressed men making laws in Washington.

One of the largest problems facing euthanasia, both morally and legally, is that no clear, common definition of death exists. Doctors and philosophers have yet to agree on a common definition of death. The traditional definition of death states that a person is dead when “there is total cessation of respiration and blood flow (AE 223)”. While one state may recognize that definition, different states rely on different definitions when applying them to legal matters. Advancements in biomedical technology, which can sustain both respiration and blood flow even when there is no brain activity being recorded, further complicate the issue. For fear of losing their licenses, many times health professionals are forced to leave patients on respirators and feeding tubes against the will of the patient’s family which.

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