The Pros and Cons of Euthanasia
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“Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending life of another person to relieve that person's suffering and where the act is the cause of death.”(Gupta, Bhatnagar and Mishra) Some define it as mercy killing. Euthanasia may be voluntary, non voluntary and involuntary. When terminally ill patient consented to end his or her life, it is called voluntary euthanasia. Non voluntary euthanasia occurs when the suffering person never consented nor requested to end a life. These patients are incompetent to decide because they are either minor, in a comatose stage or have mental conditions. Involuntary euthanasia is conducted when it is against the will of the patient (Gupta, Bhatnagar, Mishra). Euthanasia can be either passive or active. Passive euthanasia means life-sustaining treatments are withheld and nothing is done to keep the patient alive. Active euthanasia occurs when a physician do something by giving drugs or substances that ends a patient’s life. (Medical News Today)
Our values, opinions and beliefs depend on what culture, religion and the society we come from. People who are against view euthanasia as murder and that we must respect the value of life. Those who are in favor of euthanasia believe that doing such act eliminates the patient’s pain and suffering. Also, the right to die allows the person to die with dignity. Euthanasia may involve taking a human’s life, but not all forms of killing are wrong nor consider as murder. It depends on the underlying reasons and intentions. If you value a person’s life and the cause of death is for the patient’s benefit and not one’s personal interest, then euthanasia is permissible.
Pain and suffering is one reason people support euthanasia. “Pain-relief treatment could or even would shorten life”. (32) Yet, it is justified if the purpose is to comfort and relieve pain. Providing adequate amount of pain-relief treatment is also a way to extend life. It lessens the patient’s distress psychologically and physically. (Somerville) Going beyond the limit by overdosing the patient will poison the body and hastens death. In this case, it is unacceptable because its intention is to kill a person’s life and not to comfort.
An Interview by Lesley Martin is an example of euthanasia. Lesley is a registered nurse who relocated to New Zealand to take care of her mother, Joy. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer. After surgery, multiple interventions and other complications, her condition deteriorated and was dying.
Joy asked Lesley to promise not to let her suffer for a long time. Before Joy’s death, Lesley administered 20 mg. After an hour, she gave her another 40 mg of morphine. The prescribed dosage was only 10 mg over 24 hours. “The purpose of the intervention was to save Joy from dying inch by inch for several days”. (218) Few hours later, Lesley finally fulfilled her promise by suffocating her mother with a pillow. Of the two attempts she made, Lesley was guilty of overdosing her mother with morphine. With her intention to end her mother’s life, Lesley Martin was convicted of attempted murder. (Mitchell)
Generally, the use of morphine is to relieve excessive pain. Based on my experiences, I have witnessed several people taking morphine who do not live long because of its side effects. Some physician may even increase the dosage for more comfort. However, this type of euthanasia is acceptable because its purpose is to comfort and alleviate the person’s suffering. Unlike Lesley, her emotions lead her misjudgment. Although Lesley is a nurse, it is beyond her scope of practice to increase the dosage. If the increased dosage was prescribed by the physician, then administering it will be considered legal. In this case, Lesley would not be charged of overdosing Joy with morphine. Rather she would be convicted of suffocating her mother.
Pro-euthanasia also argues that each person has the right to die and die with dignity. The underlying debate is the person’s quality of life. For an instance, a 95-year-old woman diagnosed with severe heart disease and advanced Alzheimer disease. Her condition is terminal and would more likely to suffer further heart attacks. She may even die within days or weeks. The only way to save her for the upcoming future attacks is cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Since the patient has dementia, she is incompetent to make decisions. Due to lack of mental abilities, others may view her life not worth living and be better off dead. Instead of saving, some will do nothing to allow the patient to die. It is morally wrong. However, there are exemptions. It may be unethical to shorten human life but it is acceptable if the purpose of not resuscitating is to alleviate suffering and benefit the patient. Also, if further treatment is futile and will only give excessive burden to the patient; then withdrawing treatment is acceptable (Keown, p 46).
My friend’s experience is another form of euthanasia. Her grandmother was a dialysis patient for almost 20 years. One day his appendix was ruptured and need to undergo appendectomy. The surgery was successful. While she was recovering, he suddenly had a cardiac arrest. She survived from the attack but it resulted her being on a comatose stage. The ventilator was the only means to stay alive. Doctor’s finding was that the patient’s heart was calcified due to long-term dialysis. A year passed, still no sign of improvement. For this reason, the doctor suggested to get her off the ventilator. It was a very difficult decision for the family. They wanted to prolong her life as much as possible. The family even asked for second opinions from other physicians, yet still received the same suggestions. Finally, the family decided to put her grandmother to rest.
The other two examples have a similar concept. Judging the person worthless due to mental conditions devalues a human’s life. Having disabilities or being unconscious does not mean they do not have the right to live. However, if future treatment is unnecessary and useless and that no other medicines or treatments could restore nor improve the person’s condition; then withdrawing life-sustaining treatments is acceptable and legal.
Based on the examples presented, Euthanasia can be acceptable under some circumstances. Euthanasia may involve taking a human’s life, but not all forms of killing are murder. Therefore, we must not conclude that euthanasia is completely wrong. To respect the value of life does not also mean that we have to prolong their suffering or shorten a person’s life. Our goal is to comfort the dying person and lessen their suffering as much as possible, even if such act is the cause of death. Yet at the same time, we must also abide the law. Being open-minded and considering all the issues surrounding the patient’s condition would help us determine if keeping a patient alive is the best option or may opt to euthanasia.
Gupta, Deepak, Sushma Bhatnagar, and Seema Mishra. "Euthanasia: Issues Implied Within."
Internet Journal of Pain, Symptom Control & Palliative Care 4.2 (2006): 1. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.
Keown, John. “Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legalization”.
Cambridge University Press, (Apr. 2002). Web. 16 Nov. 2010
Mitchell, Kay. "An interview with Lesley Martin." International Journal of Palliative Nursing
10.5 (2004): 218-224. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.
Somerville, Margaret A. “Death Talk: The Case Against Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted
Suicide.” McGill-Queen’s University Press, (2001). Web 16 Nov. 2010
"What Is Euthanasia (assisted Suicide)? What Is The Definition Of Assisted Suicide Or Euthanasia?" Medical News Today: Health News. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.