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Argument Against Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper

Argument Against Euthanasia

A considerable size of society is in favor of Euthanasia

mostly because they feel that as a democratic country, we as free

individuals, have the right to decide for ourselves whether or not it

is our right to determine when to terminate someone’s life. The

stronger and more widely held opinion is against Euthanasia primarily

because society feels that it is god’s task to determine when one of

his creations time has come, and we as human beings are in no position

to behave as god and end someone’s life. When humans take it upon

themselves to shorten their lives or to have others to do it for them

by withdrawing life-sustaining apparatus, they play god. They usurp

the divine function, and interfere with the divine plan.

Euthanasia is the practice of painlessly putting to death

persons who have incurable, painful, or distressing diseases or

handicaps. It come from the Greek words for ‘good’ and ‘death’, and is

commonly called mercy killing. Voluntary euthanasia may occur when

incurably ill persons ask their physician, friend or relative, to put

them to death. The patients or their relatives may ask a doctor to

withhold treatment and let them die. Many critics of the medical

profession contend that too often doctors play god on operating tables

and in recovery rooms. They argue that no doctor should be allowed to

decide who lives and who dies.

The issue of euthanasia is having a tremendous impact on

medicine in the United States today. It was only in the nineteenth

century that the word came to be used in the sense of speeding up the

process of dying and the destruction of so-called useless lives. Today

it is defined as the deliberate ending of life of a person suffering

from an incurable disease. A distinction is made between positive, or

active, and negative, or passive, euthanasia. Positive euthanasia is

the deliberate ending of life; an action taken to cause death in a

person. Negative euthanasia is defined as the withholding of life

preserving procedures and treatments that would prolong the life of

one who is incurably and terminally ill and couldn’t survive without

them. The word euthanasia becomes a respectable part of our vocabulary

in a subtle way, via the phrase ‘ death with dignity’.

Tolerance of euthanasia is not limited to our own country. A

court case in South Africa, s. v. Hatmann (1975), illustrates this

quite well. A medical practitioner, seeing his eighty-seven year old

father suffering from terminal cancer of the prostate, injected an

overdose of Morphine and Thiopental, causing his father’s death within

seconds. The court charged the practitioner as guilty of murder

because ‘the law is clear that it nonetheless constitutes the crime of

murder, even if all that an accused had done is to hasten the death of

a human being who was due to die in any event’. In spite of this

charge, the court simply imposed a nominal sentence; that is,

imprisonment until the rising of the court. (Friedman 246)

Once any group of human beings is considered unworthy of

living, what is to stop our society from extending this cruelty to

other groups? If the mongoloid is to be deprived of his right to life,

what of the blind and deaf? and What about of the cripple, the

retarded, and the senile?

Courts and moral philosophers alike have long accepted the

proposition that people have a right to refuse medical treatment they

find painful or difficult to bear, even if that refusal means certain

death. But an appellate court in California has gone one controversial

step further. (Walter 176)

It ruled that Elizabeth Bouvia, a cerebral palsy victim, had

an absolute right to refuse a life-sustaining feeding tube as part of

her privacy rights under the US and California constitutions. This was

the nation’s most sweeping decision in perhaps the most controversial

realm of the rights explosion: the right to die…

As individuals and as a society, we have the positive

obligation to protect life. The second precept is that we have the

negative obligation not to destroy or injure human life directly,

especially the life of the innocent and invulnerable. It has been

reasoned that the protection of innocent life- and therefore,

opposition to abortion, murder, suicide, and euthanasia- pertains to

the common good of society.

Among the potential effects of a legalised practice of

euthanasia are the following:

“Reduced pressure to improve curative or symptomatic

treatment”. If euthanasia had been legal 40 years ago, it is quite

possible that there would be no hospice movement today. The

improvement in terminal care is a direct result of attempts made to

minimize suffering. If that suffering had been extinguished by

extinguishing the patients who bore it, then we may never have known

the advances in the control of pain, nausea, breathlessness, and other

terminal symptoms that the last twenty years have seen. Some diseases

that were terminal a few decades ago are now routinely cured by newly

developed treatments. Earlier acceptance of euthanasia might well have

undercut the urgency of the research efforts which led to the

discovery of those treatments. If we accept euthanasia now, we may

well delay by decades the discovery of effective treatments for those

diseases that are now terminal. (Brock 76)

“Abandonment of Hope”. Every doctor can tell stories of

patients expected to die within days who surprise everyone with their

extraordinary recoveries. Every doctor has experienced the wonderful

embarrassment of being proven wrong in their pessimistic prognosis. To

make euthanasia a legitimate option as soon as the prognosis is

pessimistic enough is to reduce the probability of such extraordinary

recoveries from low to zero.

“Increased fear of hospitals and doctors”. Despite all the

efforts of health education, it seems there will always be a

transference of the patient’s fear of illness from the illness to the

doctors and hospitals who treat it. This fear is still very real and

leads to large numbers of late presentations of illnesses that might

have been cured if only the patients had sought help earlier. To

institutionalize euthanasia, however carefully, would undoubtedly

magnify all the latent fear of doctors and hospitals harbored by the

public. The inevitable result would be a rise in late presentations

and, therefore, preventable deaths.

“Difficulties of oversight and regulation”. Both the Dutch and

the California proposals list sets of precautions designed to prevent

abuses. They acknowledge that such are a possibility. The history of

legal “loopholes” is not a cheering one. Abuses might arise when the

patient is wealthy and an inheritance is at stake, when the doctor has

made mistakes in diagnosis and treatment and hopes to avoid detection,

when insurance coverage for treatment costs is about to expire, and in

a host of other circumstances. (Maguire 321)

“Pressure on the Patient”. Both sets of proposals seek to

limit the influence of the patient’s family on the decision, again

acknowledging the risks posed by such influences. Families have all

kinds of subtle ways, conscious and unconscious, of putting pressure

on a patient to request euthanasia and relive them of the financial

and social burden of care. Many patients already feel guilty for

imposing burdens on those on those who care for them, even when the

families are happy to bear the burden. To provide an avenue for the

discharge of that guilt in a request for euthanasia is to risk putting

to death a great many patients who do not wish to die.

“Conflict with aims of medicine”. The pro-euthanasia movement

cheerfully hands the dirty work of the actual killing to the doctors

who by and large , neither seek nor welcome the responsibility. There

is little examination of the psychological stresses imposed on those

whose training and professional outlook are geared to the saving of

lives by asking them to start taking lives on a regular basis.

Euthanasia advocates seem very confident that doctors can be relied on

to make the enormous efforts sometimes necessary to save some lives,

while at the same time assenting to requests to take other lives. Such

confidence reflects, perhaps, a high opinion of doctor’s psychic

robustness, but it is a confidence seriously undermined by the

shocking rates of depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and

marital discord consistently recorded among this group.

“Dangers of Societal Acceptance”. It must never be forgotten

that doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators have personal lives,

homes and families, or that they are something more than just doctors,

nurses, or hospital administrators. They are citizens and a

significant part of the society around them. We should be very worried

about what the institutionalization of euthanasia will do to society,

in general , how will we regard murderers? (Brody 89)

“The Slippery Slope”. How long after acceptance of voluntary

euthanasia will we hear the calls for non-voluntary euthanasia? There

are thousands of comatose or demented patients sustained by little

more than good nursing care. They are an enormous financial and social

burden. How long will the advocates of euthanasia be arguing that we

should “assist them in dying”.

“Costs and Benefits”. Perhaps the most disturbing risk of all

is posed by the growing concern over medical costs. Euthanasia is,

after all, a very cheap service. The cost of a dose of barbiturates

and curare and the few hours in a hospital bed that it takes them to

act is minute compared to the massive bills incurred by many patients

in the last weeks and months of their lives. Already in Britain, There

is a serious under- provision of expensive therapies like renal

dialysis and intensive care, with the result that many otherwise

preventable deaths occur. Legalizing euthanasia would save substantial

financial resources which could be diverted to more “useful”

treatments. These economic concerns already exert pressure to accept

euthanasia, and, if accepted, they will inevitability tend to enlarge

the category of patients for whom euthanasia is permitted…

“Do not tolerate killing”. Now is the time for the medical

profession to rally in defense of its fundamental moral principles, to

repudiate any and all acts of direct and intentional killing by

physicians and their agents. We call on the profession and its

leadership to obtain the best advice, regarding both theory and

practice, about how to defend the profession’s moral center and to

resist growing pressures both from without and from within. We call on

fellow physicians to say that we will not deliberately kill. We must

say also to each of our fellow physicians that we will not tolerate

killing of patients and that we shall take disciplinary action against

doctors who kill. (Chapman 209)

On the other hand some people strongly feel that euthanasia is

not bad and should not be looked down upon.

Are there no conditions when life is meaningless and should be

quietly ended? If a person is subject to pain that won’t stop as a

result of a disease that can’t be cured, must he or she suffer that

pain as long as possible when there are gentle ways of putting an end

to life? If a person suffers from a disease that deprives him or her

of all memory and makes him or her a helpless lump of flesh that may

live on for years.

If euthanasia were legalized,it should be admitted that there

might be some abuses of virtually every social practice. There is no

absolute guarantee against that. But we do not normally think that a

social practice should be precluded simply because it might sometimes

be abused. The crucial issue is whether the evil of the abuses would

be so great as to outweigh the benefit of the practice. In the case of

euthanasia, the question is whether the abuses, or the consequences

generally, would be so numerous as to outweigh the advantages of

legalization. The choice is not between a present policy that is

benign and an alternative that is potentially dangerous. The present

policy had it’s evils, too.

We spend more than a billion dollars a day for health car

while our teachers are underpaid, and our industrial plants are rusty.

This should not continue. There is something fundamentally

insustainable about a society that moves its basic value-producing

industries overseas yet continues to manufacture artificial hearts at

home. We have money to give smokers heart transplants but no money to

retool out steel mills. We train more doctors and lawyers than we need

but fewer teachers. On any given day, 30 to 40 percent of the hospital

beds in America are empty, but our classrooms are overcrowded and our

transportation systems are deteriorating. We are great at treating

sick people, but we are not that great at treating a sick economy. And

we are not succeeding in international trade. When you really look

around and try to find industries the United States is succeeding in,

you discover that they are very few and far between.(Lamm 133)

There is no way we are going to come to grips with this

problem until we also look at some of these areas that aren’t going to

go away . One of the toughest of these is what Victor Fuchs called

“flat-of-the-curve medicine”- those medical procedures which are the

highest in cost but achieve little or no improvement in health status.

He says that they must be reduced or eliminated. We must demand that

professional societies and licensing authorities establish some norms

and standards for diagnostic and therapeutic practice that encompass

both costs and medicine. Wer’e going to have to come up with some sort

of concept of cost-effective medicine.

Individuals have the right to decide about their own lives and

deaths. What more basic right is there than to decide if you’re going

to live? There is none. A person under a death sentence who’s being

kept alive, through so called heroic measures certainly has a

fundamental right to say, “Enough’s enough. The treatment’s worse than

the disease. Leave me alone. Let me die!”. Ironically, those who deny

the terminally ill this right do so out of a sense of high morality.

Don’t they see that, in denying the gravely ill and suffering the

right to release themselves from pain, they commit the greatest crime?

The period of suffering can be shortened. If you have ever

been in a terminal cancer ward, It’s grim but enlightening. Anyone

who’s been there can know how much people can suffer before they die.

And not just physically. The emotional, even spiritual, agony is often

worse. Today our medical hardware is so sophisticated that the period

of suffering can be extended beyond the limit of human endurance.

What’s the point of allowing someone a few more months or days or

hours of so-called life when death is inevitable? There’s no point. In

fact, it’s downright inhumane. When someone under such conditions asks

to be allowed to die, it’s far more humane to honor that request than

to deny it.(Barry 405)

People have a right to die with dignity. Nobody wants to end

up plugged into machines and wired to tubes.

Who wants to spend their last days lying in a hospital bed

wasting away to something that’s hardly recognizable as a human being,

let alone his or her former self? Nobody. The very thought insults the

whole concept of what it means to be human. People are entitled to

dignity, in life and in death. Just as we respect people’s right to

live with dignity, so we must respect their right to die with dignity.

In the case of the terminally ill, that means people have the right to

refuse life-sustaining treatment when it’s apparent to them that all

the treatment is doing is destroying their dignity, and reducing them

to some subhuman level of humanity.

The reasons just stated in favor of euthanasia are often over

looked due to the following arguments that are against euthanasia.

The way you talk you’d think people have absolute right over

their bodies and lives. But that is obviously just not true. No

individual has absolute freedom. Even the patient’s Bill of Rights,

which was drawn up by the American Hospital Association, recognizes

this. Although it acknowledges that patients have the right to refuse

treatment, the document also realizes that they have this right and

freedom only to the extent permitted by law. Maybe people should be

allowed to die if they want to. But if so, it’s not because they have

an absolute right to dispose of themselves if they want to.(Brock 73)

Only a fool would minimize the agony that many terminally ill

patient endure. And there’s no question that by letting them die on

request we shorten the period of suffering. But we also shorten their

lives. Can you seriously argue that the saving of pain is greater good

than the saving of life? Or that presence of pain is worse than the

loss of life? Of course, nobody likes to see a creature suffer,

especially when the creature has requested a halt to the suffering.

But we have to keep our priorities straight.

Pro euthanasianists make it sound as though the superhuman

efforts made to keep people alive are not worthy of human beings. What

could be more respectful of human life, than to maintain life against

all odds, and against all hope?

All of life is a struggle and a gamble. At the gaming table of

life, nobody ever knows what the outcome will be. ” Indeed, humans are

noblest when they persist in the face of the inevitable. Look at our

literature. Reflect on our heroes. They are not those who have

capitulated but those who have endured. No, there’s nothing

undignified against being hollowed out by a catastrophic disease,

about writhing in pain, about wishing it would end. The indignity lies

in capitulation”.(Buchanan 208)


Friedman, Emily. Ethics Issues For Health Care Professionals.

Baskerville: American Hospital Publishing, 1986.

Maguire, Daniel. Death By Choice. Garden City: Doubleday & Company,


Reich, Warren. Quality Of Life. New York: Paulist Press, 1990.

Brody, Baruch. Life And Death Decision Making. New York: Oxford

University Press, 1988.

Chapman, Carleton. Physicians,Law,& Ethics. New York: New York

University Press, 1984.

Maestri, William. Choose Life And Not Death. New York: Library Of

Congress, 1986.

Low, Charlotte. Euthanasia – Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego:

Greenhaven Press, 1989.

Brock, Dan. Deciding For Others. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1989.

Barry, Vincent. Moral Aspects Of Health Care. Belmont: Wadsworth

Publishing Company, 1982.

Current, Richard.”Death”.The World Book Encyclopedia, 1986 ed.

Gibbs, Nancy. “Dr. Death Strikes Again” TIME, 54 (November 4, 1991).

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