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Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper

There are numerous controversial issues that currently affect the evolving field

of psychology. Unsolved issues on human experimentation, abortion, genetic

testing, animal rights are a few examples of themes that arouse conflict and

contention. Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted suicide is yet another

controversial issue that has particular relevance to the field of psychology

because of the apparent moral and ethical dilemmas involved. Euthanasia, by

definition ?a happy death,? implies an easy or painless death. The purpose

of this procedure is usually to end suffering analogous to the phrase ?mercy

killing,? the practice of putting to death a persons suffering from incurable

conditions or diseases. This subject brings to discussion one of the oldest and

most controversial issues in the practice of modern medicine. On one side of the

argument, Euthanasia would appear to be contradicting the Hippocratic oath,

which proscribes inducing death, even if it is requested by the patient. On the

contrary, medicine could be referred to as the practice that not only prevents

death, but enhances the quality of life through prevention of suffering. The

issue of assisted suicide also stimulates the debate of legality versus

situation ethics. Should jurors, in physician-assisted suicide cases involving

Dr. Jack Kervorkian, vote on grounds that empathy and compassion takes

precedence over the letter of the law? Antithetically, should the juror take the

conventional or legalist perspective and enforce the law as not allowing room

for such compassion? Is it is morally permissible for individuals to end their

lives when they no longer wish to go on living or suffering? This central

question of assisted suicide directly relates to the worries of how society

would be impacted if Euthanasia were to be legalized. In addition to the

societal impact of legalizing such a procedure, does this violate the ethical

codes of the practice of medicine? These are some of the obvious and reoccurring

questions in the controversial ethics pertaining to Euthanasia. The

controversial issues of Euthanasia have direct relevance to the field of

psychology in the judgment of whether or not an individual is ?competent? to

make such a determination to end their life. For an example, clinical and

counseling psychologists often are consulted by physicians regarding DNR (Do Not

Recesitate) orders to examine the psychological stability of the patient to make

a life ending decision. Additional parallels that relate psychology to

Euthanasia are an individual?s moral development and how it effects their

decision making process? in relation to moral dilemmas in the law. Everyone is

put in situations where they are forced to form an opinion that potentially goes

against an accepted or legal policy. Psychology examines and theorizes how

people may react in such a situation as well as analyzes the varying factors

that may lead up to an individual?s decision in such a predicament. Examples

of this, relevant to Euthanasia, would be jurors sitting in on an assisted

suicide case such as those obtaining to Dr. Jack Kevorkian. In this situation,

the jurors were faced with the psychological decision to either declare that it

is wrong to assist in one?s death because it is legally prohibited. Or, on the

contrary, that the suffering and pain of a terminally ill patient was ended

allowing the patient to die in a peaceful manner; delineating that the action

should be deemed honorable due to its inherent value rather than its

consequences. There are various types of Euthanasia that must be explained

before further discussing the topic. If the act is undertaken at the explicit

request of a competent patient, it is defined as voluntary euthanasia.

Involuntary euthanasia is when this action is carried out without the explicit

request of the individual, also known as murder. Those who argue against

physician-assisted suicide primarily base their justification on the moral

probity of the medical profession. There are many worries that go along with the

legalization of euthanasia. In the Netherlands, euthanasia has already been

legalized and is being practiced. Some of the frequent concerns are the possible

pressuring of patients into consenting, especially those without health

insurance or financial support. Economic and financial hardships could

potentially play a major factor with the unjust persuasion of an individual into

such a procedure. The Netherlands, indeed, finds itself having an alarmingly

high rate of involuntary euthanasia, which is unequivocally impermissible.

Euthanasia is also seen as being a serious distraction to physicians and others

in the medical field because of the potential luring of doctors away from the

improvement of pain control, suffering and terminal care. In addition to this,

frequent practice of euthanasia could very well negatively affect the trust

entailed in the patient-physician relationship with doctors who are known to

actively practice assisted suicide. All practitioners in the medical field take

the Hippocratic oath stating the following, ??I will follow that system of

regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit

of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will

give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel??

The Hippocratic oath strongly implicates that participating or approving of

physician-assisted suicide could very well destroy the legitimacy of the medical

practice, with direct regard to the value and sacredness of life. Additional

views against such procedures claim that most pain and suffering in terminal

illnesses are controllable using current medical technology, thus suggesting the

nonnecessity of Euthanasia. There are many dangers that can be presented by the

misuse of assisted suicide. Without proper guidelines and precautions

established, euthanasia could easily become a dangerous hazard. A

misunderstanding could easily transpire in regards to what level of pain the

patient should be in for assisted suicide to be offered. Moreover, guidelines

must be set as to determine whether or not the patient is psychologically

competent to make the decision to end their life. I feel that there is a crucial

difference in the manner that Euthanasia should be permitted. I feel that a

physician should not convince an individual the worthiness of life; however, I

feel that euthanasia should be allowed because of its reverence for a person?s

judgement on his or her own quality of life provided that all other medical

options have been considered. One of the greatest dangers is to ignore or deny

lessons learned from world history. Nazi Germany actively had programs to

eliminate the weak and vulnerable, moreover in this movement euthanasia was

frequently meditated. Hitler focused on this topic and legalized the assisted

suicide for all those who were mentally retarded as well as anyone who was

?incurably sick by medical examination.? By1941 in Nazi Germany had

euthanized 70,000 patients in mental institutions. For Hitler, this act was

merely an advancing step towards a better social hygiene. The power of the state

rather than the empowerment of the individual with respect to euthanasia

displayed the danger of such practice. What the Nazi?s did was purely murder

for the good of the state; however, the possibility for legalized euthanasia to

once again become such a hazard must be recognized. There are five commonly

excepted ethical reasons for those against physician assisted suicide. The first

is that the American Medical Association has ruled out any ?mercy killing,

which is defined as ? the intentional termination of the life of one human

being by another.? They argue that a physician?s duty is to prevent medical

suffering in the first place as laid out in the Hippocratic Oath, an oath that

all physicians take upon completion of medical school. ?Western medicine has

regarded the killing on patients, even on request, as a profound violation of

the deepest meaning of the medical vocation?Neither legal tolerance nor the

best bedside manner can ever make medical killing medically ethical.? The next

argument recognizes the slippery slope that could easily develop as did with

Hitler in Nazi Germany upon the legalization of assisted suicide. The opposition

also fears that more and more physician?s will become insistent in their roles

with assisted suicide, and begin to offer and urge it on patients who have

become not only depressed about their circumstances, but also a burden to

themselves and to others, even an economic burden. They also feel that the

doctor-patient relationship depends solely on trust, and if the public begins to

mistrust the profession of medicine, because its unhealthy participation in

death-dealing, then the profession of medicine itself will suffer irreversible

losses. They also see the potential for physician?s having the ultimate power

of life and death in their hands as being an instigator to infringement and

control over an individual?s life. Lastly, the opposition feels that more

often than not, euthanasia would be offered before all moral, political and

social ramifications have been considered. On the contrary, there are many that

argue in favor of euthanasia and assisted suicide. In fact, euthanasia is

commonly practiced legally throughout the Netherlands. Euthanasia can easily

seen as a method allowing an individual to die peacefully and painlessly if they

are suffering from an incurable sickness. In 1991 an estimated 516,170 Americans

died from cancer. If 5% of these people died suffering with severe pain, this

surmounts to 25,809 people dying a painful death that could have been eased with

assisted suicide. This statistic clearly proves that there are a considerable

number of people that are suffering painful deaths in areas that the medical

field has been able to remedy. If a patient is physically and emotionally

competent and able to coherently understand their dainty condition, the option

of euthanasia and a peaceful death should rightfully be presented. For patients

that are suffering from terminal cancer and other incurable sicknesses, pain is

by no means the only cause of their suffering. Other common symptoms of

terminally ill patients are weakness, pain, anorexia, dyspnea, nausea/vomiting,

confusion, pressure sores, fecal incontinence, as well as offensive odors. Dr.

Jack Kevorkian, a publicly well-known advocate and practitioner of assisted

suicide argues that in the current state of law and medicine, individuals with

degenerative diseases must decide either to take their own life during the stage

of their impairment when they are still capable, or suffer the grim realities of

a lingering decline. Individuals deserve the right to have control over their

lives and to the autonomy they are entitled to. Those in favor of euthanasia

agree that it is an individual?s constitutional right to be offered a painless

cure to their suffering. The principle of respect for autonomy tells us to allow

rational individuals to live their lives according to their own autonomous

decisions without any interference. If rational individuals independently chose

to die, then proper respect for autonomy will allow physicians to assist them in

doing so. The goal of medicine is to address the suffering of patients. As the

suffering increases intractable to relief, if requested by the patient, the

medical field should offer euthanizing relief if no other options are available.

This by no means delineates that a person should be forced into assisted suicide

regardless of their social, political or economic stature. Assisted suicide

should merely be an option mentioned to the patient, moreover would be

permissible to execute upon a patients request. Supporters also argue that the

responsibility for technology should exist for these individuals as well.

Medical technology has made efforts to gain terminally ill patients some

additional time; likewise, medicine must recognize when they are unable to

further help such patients. Scientific research for cures in these areas should

continue; however, in the mean time technological methods to relieve the pain

for those via lethal injection should be offered. Furthermore, when science is

able to find a cure, there will be no need for the assisted suicide. Euthanasia

is not trying to replace scientific research, but it offers a relief to the

incurable pain and suffering that research has not yet corrected. Addition

concern should be devoted to the individual?s autonomy. The personal decision

to end ones life whether it is because of terminal pain or merely faced with old

age, suicide should be honored. However, a firm criteria for this must be

established to prevent abuse. The following are some of the few guidelines The

patient must fully understand their current medical condition and must be

mentally aware that assisted suicide is an irreversible action; moreover, the

patient must request assisted suicide on their own will. The patients suffering

must also be validated by a physician as not being caused from inapt care. A

second, non-affiliated physician should make consultation, thus ensuring that

the patient?s judgement is not distorted. The rise of ?patient?s rights?

in current medical ethics debates will undoubtedly bring euthanasia closer to

being legalized in the United States. Those who support autonomy in biomedical

ethics have been promoting the right for patients to ask for assistance in

death. The supporters of assisted suicide have established numerous reasons as

to why euthanasia is a morally and legally legitimate practice. These supporters

have also instituted particular safeguarding procedures preventing against

abuse. Specific committee review boards have been devised to examine the

patient?s competence, the voluntariness of the request, and the terminal

condition in which the patients suffers from. The euthanasia committees would

consist of interdisciplinary panels of clinicians, ethicists, lawyers, as well

as laypersons. With a diversified professional panel, the committee will

effectively be able to analyze the patient?s competency levels as well as the

severity of the individual?s suffering. Corresponding interviews will be

conducted assuring the patient?s genuine desire to carry out the procedure,

and that he or she is not suffering from a mental or psychological impairment.

The committee?s purpose is not to agree or disagree with the patient?s

decision in whether or not to proceed with assisted suicide; rather it

determines the patient?s psychological ability to make such a decision. This

does not impose euthanasia, but it morally and legally sanctions the procedure

because it is of the individuals own will. Now that both sides to the Euthanasia

controversy have been described. I feel that I am prepared to present my

perspective on the issue. As an undergraduate student studying to go into the

medical field. I am an avid supporter of medical research to find cures for

terminal diseases as well as more effective methods to relief pain in such

patients. In situations where medicine is presently unable to treat or relief an

illness, I feel that it is an individuals autonomous right to end their life if

the suffering has reached an unbearable level. I see physician?assisted

suicide as being a legitimate option if there is no further medical assistance

that can relief a person?s illness. By no means am I discrediting medical

research; however, in cases where no medical help can be provided I feel that

euthanasia should be an option upon request. An individual should not be

pressured into the procedure; however, it is a person?s constitutional right

to end their terminal suffering. I believe that assisted suicide should be

available upon request by licensed practitioners regardless of an individuals

social, economic or political status. I feel that euthanasia should only be

legalized under very specific guidelines. I agree that there should be an

established committee that analyzes the competency of the patient?s mental

status, thus assuring that the patient is fully able to make such an

irreversible decision. I see Euthanasia as being a justifiable procedure

provided that the patient is not forced into doing anything that they do not

desire, and that there is an assurance that the patient will be capable to make

such a decision. With the proper safeguarding against abuse, physician-assisted

suicide is a moral option to those in need of a way out of their terminal


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