Euthanasia

Euthanasia has become an issue of increasing attention because of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's assisted suicides. As of October 21 Kevorkian has assisted in nineteen suicides. Because of the increasing number of suicides in Michigan, Gov. Engler signed an anti-suicide law in late February that made doctor-assisted suicides a felony. During the 21-month trial period of the new law anyone assisting in a suicide can be sentenced to up to four years in prison and fined more than $2,000 (Reuters, 1993).

With the passing of this law I thought that most people would be against the right-to-die, not so. In a poll cited in a 1991 issue of USA Today eighty percent of Americans think sometimes there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die, compared to only fifteen percent think doctors and nurses should always do everything possible to save a person's life. It also showed that eight in ten adults approve of state laws that allow medical care for the terminally ill to be removed or withheld, if that is what the patient "wishes", whereas only thirteen percent disapproved of the laws. Also seventy percent think the family should be allowed to make the decision about treatment on behalf of the patient, while another five percent think this is suitable only in some cases (Colasnto, 1991, p. 62).

The results on mercy killing surprised me even more. Seventy percent think it is justified at least sometimes for a person to kill his or her spouse, if he or she is suffering terrible pain caused by a terminal illness. Even suicide is starting to be accepted. About half the public thinks a "moral right" to suicide exists if a person has an incurable disease or is suffering great pain with no hope of recovering (Colasnto, 1991, p. 63).

About half of those with living parents think their mothers and fathers would want medical treatment stopped if they were suffering a great deal of pain in a terminal disease, or if they became totally dependant on a family member. Forty percent of their parents would want medical treatment stopped if daily activities became a burden (Colasnto, 1991, p. 63).

With the continuous coverage of Dr. Kevorkian the views of people will continue to change. Euthanasia will continue to become more of an issue. As with any issue, each viewpoint is supported by many reasons. Those who oppose euthanasia argue that the medical profession must always be on the side of "preserving life" (Schofield, 1988, p. 24). Another reason is euthanasia will lead to the "devaluation of life" (Low, 1989, p. 37). Also they think it will force doctors and family members to "judge the value of a patient's life". Critics also say that acceptance will spread from the terminally ill to the less serious ill, the handicapped, or the mentally retarded. (Russ, 1989, p. 117)

One reason that just about everyone who favors euthanasia agrees with is that a person has the right to a death with dignity. Another reason is a person should be allowed a "natural death" instead of a prolonged death with medical equipment (Battin, 1985, p. 19). Still another reason is that doctors are supposed to ease the pain of people not prolong it (Battin, 1989, p. 19).

Death is one of the few things that all people have in common. This means that there is a chance for anyone to face the decision of letting someone go. Euthanasia should be legalized so people will only have to think about the difficult decision of the present and not about the consequences of the future.

One of the base reasons people for euthanasia give is, a person has the right to die with dignity. People should be allowed to control their own deaths. Why should a patient be forced to live if they think their present standard of life has "degenerated to the point of meaningless", when doctors can no longer help, and perhaps the pain has become unbearable? At this point, if the person is of sound mind, they should have the choice to continue on or to peacefully die, even if they need assistance in doing so (Larue, 1988, p. 153).

If the person is not able to make this decision there should be a few options, a living will, the family's choice, and the doctor's choice. A living will should be allowed to control the outcome if the person is unable to. If there is no living will the family, consulting with a qualified physician should be allowed to decide for the patient. The one situation that is most controversial is a patient with no family or no family member qualified to make the decision. Some think the doctor should be able to make the decision for the patient.

I believe that the doctor should be allowed to decide if the patient has reached the point of only getting worse and in considerable pain. In any of these situations a doctor should be at least an advisor, they are the ones with the medical knowledge, and know the present condition of the patient and the alternatives. "In any humane or humanistic view of what is good, it is morally wrong to compel hopelessly suffering or irreversible debilitated patients to stay alive when death is freely elected" (Larue, 1988, p.151).

In some cases, like terminal illness, "death is often better than dyeing", mainly due to the way that the person will die. They may have to go thorough a long period of pain and suffering. Ask yourself which you would choose, early or prolonged death (Larue, 1988, p. 153). Even if you do not think that you would end your life or another's life should personal views decide that it is not the right thing for another to do. Does any person have the right to control the choices of others?

The advances of technology have disturbed the natural balance of life and death. No longer does a person die when they are supposed to; life- support now prevents that. Opponents say doctors should not play God by killing patients, but do they realize that by prolonging death the medical profession is doing exactly that? Christian Barnard, at the World Euthanasia Conference, was quoted as saying, "I believe often that death is good medical treatment because it can achieve what all the medical advances and technology cannot achieve today and that is stop the suffering of the patient" (Battin, 1987, p. 21).

A different version of the same argument is, doctors are not always responsible to do everything they can to save somebody. If a doctor's duty is to ease the pain of his patients, then why should this exclude the possibility of letting them die? If a patient has a terminal illness and is in great pain and the patient thinks they would rather die now than continue living with the pain, the doctor should be allowed to help. What about a person, who is in a vegetative state for a prolonged period of time with no hope of recovery, should the doctor do everything? Howard Caplan gives an example of this... I have on my census a man in his early 40s, left an aphasic triplegic by a motorcycle accident when he was 19. For nearly a quarter of a century, while most of us were working, raising children, reading, and otherwise going about our lives, he's been vegetating. His biographical life ended with the crash. He can only articulate - only make sounds to convey that he's hungry or wet. If he were to become acutely ill, I would prefer not to try saving him. I'd want to let pneumonia end it for him" (1987, p. 92).

I believe that a doctor should do what he can up to a point. If a person is at the point where death is a blessing a doctor should not be forced to save a person if they go into cardiac arrest. Also it might be the patients decision for nothing to be done, in this case the doctor should do as instructed.

Is euthanasia unethical? That is what the opposition argues. They preach that doctors too often play God on the operating tables and in the recovery rooms and doctors must always be on the side of life (Battin, 1987, p. 24). They say, "Life is to be preserved and suffering was to be alleviated", but in fact the American Medical Association said, "Physicians dedicate their lives to the alleviation of suffering, to the enhancement and prolongation of life, and the destinies of humanity". They clearly state the "alleviation of suffering" before "the enhancement and prolongation of life". So if the reduction of pain would mean letting the person pass on, why would that be wrong and unethical? They also claim euthanasia is a "breach of the laws of humanity", what about the laws of nature? These laws were established long before mankind. Humanity breached the laws of nature, long before the "laws of humanity" were broken, with advances like respirators. People are the ones upsetting the balance of nature when they try to keep persons alive who are supposed to die. The planet has survived for a long time without the laws of humanity, so what makes them right? (Schofield, 1988, p. 26)

Opponents also claim that euthanasia is against God, therefore it is unethical. Yet passive euthanasia, or refraining from doing anything to keep the patient alive, has been in practice since four centuries before Christ; and in the centuries that followed neither the Christians nor the Jews significantly changed this basic idea. It was killing they were opposed to. Also in 1958 Pope Pius XII emphasized that we may 'allow the patient who is virtually already dead to pass away in peace' (Rachels, 1986, p. 43). How can anybody say mercy is against God? To me it would seem that God would want people to die in peace and without pain. If anything is against God it is trying to live longer than God had intended you to.

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