One of the biggest controversies of this decade is euthanasia. Euthanasia is killing, killing in the name of compassion and mercy. Euthanasia extends the license of state permitted killing; when permitted, it allows one human being to kill another. Its advocates present euthanasia as a caring, merciful, humane act. Its advocates employ a two-pronged strategy claiming: 1) that it should be "legalized" by the legislature, and 2) that it is a fundamental constitutional right. There are four types of euthanasia: voluntary and direct, voluntary but indirect, direct but involuntary, and indirect and involuntary. Voluntary and direct euthanasia is chosen and carried out by the patient. Voluntary but indirect euthanasia is chosen in advance. Direct but involuntary euthanasia is done for the patient without his or her request. Indirect and involuntary euthanasia occurs when a hospital decides that it is time to remove life support. People are killed in war, self-defense and capital punishment. All murder is wrong, but not all killing is murder. Hence, euthanasia is not wrong simply because it is killing. The whole issue is whether or not it is justified killing. The burden of proof is on those who would say, "this particular killing of a human being is justified." If deliberate killing takes place outside the context of self-defense, the protection of others, a justifiable war or capital punishment of a convicted criminal, convincing constitutional evidence must be ushered to prove such a killing is nonetheless right.
In ancient Greece and Rome it was permissible in some situations to help others die. For example, the Greek writer Plutarch mentioned that in Sparta infanticide was practiced on children who lacked "health and vigor." Both Socrates and Plato sanctioned forms of euthanasia in certain cases. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly was an approved custom in several ancient societies.
Back in the 1970's the Karen Quinlan case was taken all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court distinguished between committing suicide (or assisting in that act) and the withdrawal of artificial life support systems. To withdraw artificial supports and let the patient be supported solely by nature is enormously different, said the Court, from deliberately acting to kill innocent life. Each of the States, asserted the Court, has an undeniable interest in the protection and preservation of all human life. And each State has the constitutional authority to proscribe as a crime the intentional killing of innocent human life, regardless of the motives of either the assisting killer or the person wishing to kill his or her self. The Quinlan and Cruzan cases specifically distinguish between the withdrawal of artificial life support systems and the direct killing of a human being, an activity in which all governments have an immediate interest.
The courts have had to deal with a number of rights that are related to euthanasia: 1) The right to reject unwanted medical procedures, 2) The right to commit suicide solely by one's own acts, 3) The right to commit suicide with the assistance of another's, and 4) The right to authorize another to directly and intentionally kill the one seeking death.
Euthanasia has been a large issue in the courts during this century. The first doctor that was charged for performing euthanasia was in 1935. Harold Blazer was charged for the death of his daughter. His daughter was a victim of cerebral spinal meningitis. He killed her by placing a handkerchief soaked with chloroform over her face until she died. He had taken care of her for thirty years. In his trial he was acquitted. The first doctor to be found guilty was Joseph Hassman in 1986. He injected a lethal dose of Demerol into his mother-in-law by the request of her family. He was sentenced to two years probation, fined $10,000, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service. The most recent and most controversial euthanasia doctor is Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He was charged with first-degree murder in December of 1990. He connected Janet Adkins, a member of the Hemlock Society (Society in which they support your decision to die and offer support when you are ready to die), to his suicide machine, which allowed her to inject lethal drugs into her body at anytime. He has since then been present at the deaths of more than forty people.
A number of legal considerations are involved in the issue of euthanasia. The state has the right to become very involved in euthanasia cases. The state can specify how frequently someone can sign a euthanasia authorization. The state can also specify that only the individual can decide. Living wills are also a big part in the legal aspects of euthanasia. A living will can express a patient s thoughts towards his future medical treatment. Living wills are legal in forty states. They allow anyone capable of making decisions to tell the doctor beforehand that they do not wish to be put on life support. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1985 adopted the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which serves as model legislation for state laws. Today, patients are entitled to opt for passive euthanasia; that is, to make free and informed choices to refuse life support.
Only one state, Oregon, has legalized assisted suicide. The Oregon statute, which went into effect in Ocotober 1997, provides that a doctor may prescribe, but not administer, a lethal dose of medication to patient who has less than six months to live. Two doctors must agree that the patient is mentally competent and that the decision was voluntary. As of April 1999, 23 patients were given drugs under the statute, and 15 of them used the drugs to commit suicide. A report released by Oregon State Health Division reviewing the first year of the law s implementation found that the law was working well and had not been subject to abuse. Why must it be illegal then? The Fifth Amendment clearly states: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation. It also violates the Fourteenth Amendment which clearly states: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. With these amendments in mind, if one has the right to life doesn't he or she have the right to death? If one is suffering and doesn't want to live shouldn't he or she be able to take his or her own life? What if it is financially ruining the family to prolong grandpa or grandma s life?
Modern world is full of sufferings and pain. Present diseases, very often incurable, make peopleâs life intolerable, steal the sense of life and give a strong inducement to die. Even the contemporary rapid development of medicine does not give the possibility to save peopleâs life or to relieve their pain.
In the light of this situation, the problem of euthanasia is of current importance. For the last twenty years, euthanasia has been a subject of much controversy. Doctors, scientists, politicians and representatives of different confessions discuss the possibility of legitimating euthanasia. Various countries take opposite sides and either allow euthanasia or prohibit it. âEuthanasia, however, occurs secretly in all societies including those in which it is held to be immoral and illegal. The core of the challenge of euthanasia is ethical because human life is in stakeâ (Vaknin, 2). The opponents claim the breach of the Godâs right to command the human life, the devaluation of peopleâs life and state that the legalization of euthanasia is, in fact, the legalization of a murder.
However, I would like to support euthanasia and, with the help of this paper, to argue in favor of it. Euthanasia is âa deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life so as to relieve intractable sufferingâ (House of Lords, 12). It is necessary to note that there are several types of euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is already widespread in hospitals and is nothing but the impossibility to cure a person and attempts to alleviate the sufferings with the help of narcotics or the cessation of therapy because of its futility. While passive euthanasia is legally used in hospitals, the application of non-aggressive euthanasia is constantly debated. It stipulates the withdrawal of life support and it can be done either voluntary, that is with the patientâs consent, or non-voluntary, when the patient is unable to decide.
In the case when the euthanasia may be voluntary, I would like to highlight the human right to be in charge of their life. Sick bedridden people are already bereft of all rights; they feel a burden for their relatives. Humble and disabled, they want at least to leave this world peacefully and to die with dignity. Even criminals have a right for their last wish; frankly speaking, it is our duty to fulfill the last wish of sick patients. Besides, if the personâs will is rejected, he or she might try to commit the suicide. So, thus we incite them to a great sin and crime.
Moreover, very often euthanasia is the only way to relieve patientsâ pain. Is it human indeed to stay inexorable to peopleâs requests to set them free from unbearable sufferings? Personally, I believe no one can experience othersâ pain, therefore it is impossible to measure whether the person can bear it or not. Besides, a man is created for life, and all of us have the instinct of self-preservation, only people driven to despair by their disease, can ask for death and it is their right. It is necessary to realize how horrible it is to live, being conscious of the forthcoming death. Most people cannot overcome this pressure and lose the sense of life, burdening their own life and the life of their relatives as well. âEuthanasia and physician-assisted suicide will shorten the period of pre-mortem suffering and eliminate fear about how and when death will occur. The patient will have a measure of control over the process of dyingâ (Singer, 58).
In cases of inability of patients to express their will, euthanasia is also possible and is justified. Then the decision should be taken by the relatives, who are responsible for that. Often it is obvious that the patient is doomed to death and has no chances to survive. Still, relatives have to provide all necessary medicines and to pay for places in hospital. It exhausts relativesâ state of mind and has fatal consequences for the family budget. Many families spend their last money on the treatment that is vain.
Another possible reason for the justifying of euthanasia is the lack of space in hospitals for those who can be cured and saved. It is bitter to acknowledge it, but this problem exists in many countries. Those who want to live have no chance to get the proper treatment and care while those who want to die cannot give their place to them.
In fact, I suppose the greatest problem of this controversial point is the inability of the government to implement a thoroughly made law that can foresee all the possible problems of the legalization of euthanasia and avoid them.
To make a conclusion, I am sure that euthanasia has the right to exist in our society. It should be considered not as a murder but as an absolute necessity in urgent situations.
1. Chochinov H.M. Wilson K.G. The euthanasia debate: attitudes, practices and psychiatric considerations. Can J Psych.,1995
2. Vaknin Sam. Euthanasia and the Right to Die. 18 June, 2007
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