Essay/Term paper: Euthanasia
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Mark T. Maxwell
This paper will define Euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia is often
confused with and associated with assisted suicide, definitions of the two are
required. Two perspectives shall be presented in this paper. The first
perspective will favor euthanasia or the "right to die," the second perspective
will favor antieuthanasia, or the "right to live". Each perspective shall
endeavor to clarify the legal, moral and ethical ramifications or aspects of
Euthanasia, also mercy killing, is the practice of ending a life so as to
release an individual from an incurable disease or intolerable suffering.
Euthanasia is a merciful means to and end of long-term suffering. Euthanasia is
a relatively new dilemma for the United States and has gained a bad reputation
from negative media hype surrounding assisted suicides. Euthanasia has a
purpose and should be evaluated as humanely filling a void created by our
sometimes inhumane modern society.
Euthanasia is nothing less than cold-blooded killing. Euthanasia cheapens life,
even more so than the very divisive issue of abortion. Euthanasia is morally
and ethically wrong and should be banned in these United States. Modern
medicine has evolved by leaps and bounds recently, euthanasia resets these
medical advances back by years and reduces today's Medical Doctors to
administrators of death.
The term Euthanasia is used generally to refer to an easy or painless
death. Voluntary euthanasia involves a request by the dying patient or that
person's legal representative. Passive or negative euthanasia involves not
doing something to prevent deathâ”that is, allowing someone to die; active or
positive euthanasia involves taking deliberate action to cause a death.
Euthanasia is often mistaken or associated with for assisted suicide, a
distant cousin of euthanasia, in which a person wishes to commit suicide but
feels unable to perform the act alone because of a physical disability or lack
of knowledge about the most effective means. An individual who assists a
suicide victim in accomplishing that goal may or may not be held responsible for
the death, depending on local laws. There is a distinct difference between
euthanasia and assisted suicide. This paper targets euthanasia; pros and cons,
not assisted suicide.
Thesis Argument That Euthanasia Should Be Accepted
Without doubt, modern dying has become fearsome. Doctors now possess
the technologies and the skills to forestall natural death almost indefinitely.
All too often, the terminally ill suffer needless pain and are kept alive
without real hope, as families hold a harrowing deathwatch.
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 .
Euthanasia has been accepted both legally and morally in various forms
in many societies . "There is no more profoundly personal decision, nor one
which is closer to the heart of personal liberty, than the choice which a
terminally ill person makes to end his or her suffering ...," U.S. District
Judge Barbara Rothstein wrote (R-1). Organizations supporting the legalization
of voluntary euthanasia were established in Great Britain in 1935 and in the
United States in 1938. They have gained some public support, but so far they
have been unable to achieve their goal in either nation. In the last few
decades, Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been
The proeuthanasia, or "right to die," movement has received considerable
encouragement by the passage of laws in 40 states by 1990, which allow legally
competent individuals to make "living wills." These wills empower and instruct
doctors to withhold life-support systems if the individuals become terminally
Euthanasia continues to occur in all societies, including those in which
it is held to be immoral and illegal. A medically assisted end to a meaningless
and worthless "void" of an existence is both accepted and condoned by the
medical profession. In a Colorado survey, 60% of physicians stated that they
have cared for patients for whom they believe active euthanasia would be
justifiable, and 59% expressed a willingness to use lethal drugs in such cases
if legal. In a study of 676 San Francisco physicians, 70% believed that
patients with an incurable terminal illness should have the option of active
euthanasia, and 45% would carry out such a request, if legal (35% were opposed).
Nearly 90% of physicians in another study agreed that "sometimes it is
appropriate to give pain medication to relieve suffering, even if it may hasten
a patient's death."(R-2)
Antithesis Argument That Euthanasia Is Unacceptable
With the rise of organized religion, euthanasia became morally and
ethically abhorrent. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all hold human life
sacred and condemn euthanasia in any form . The American Medical Association
continues to condemn assisted suicide .
Western laws have generally considered the act of helping someone to die
a form of homicide subject to legal sanctions. Even a passive withholding of
help to prevent death has frequently been severely punished .
And the Roman Catholic Church's newly released catechism says:
``Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder.'' (R-1).
The Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association recommends
that the American Medical Association reject euthanasia and physician-assisted
suicide as being incompatible with the nature and purposes of the healing arts
"When does the right to die become the obligation to die?" asks the Rev. Richard
McCormick, professor of Christian ethics at Notre Dame University who spoke
recently against assisted suicide at Fort Lauderdale's Holy Cross Hospital.
"Imagine an 85-year-old grandmother" with the option of ordering a suicide dose
from a doctor: ""Do they want me to ask for it now?' Physician-assisted suicide
saves money. ... This is a flight from the challenge of social compassion." (R-
The issue of euthanasia is not a recent one. The Oath of Hippocrates is
said to have originated in approximately the fifth century B.C. and, even then,
it incorporated a specific pledge against physician-assisted suicide when it
said, "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone, even if asked."
What of the innocent bystanders? The family, friends or even foes of
someone that elects to exercise their "right to die"? It is suggested that a
person suffering from an incurable or terminal illness is not complete command
of their mental faculties and thereby incapable of such an extraordinary
decision. Surely a degraded mental capacity rules out realistic thinking with
regard to survivors. How many "innocent bystanders" also pay the price of
Synthesis For Euthanasia
Euthanasia occurs in all societies, including those in which it is held
to be immoral and illegal . Euthanasia occurs under the guise of secrecy in
societies that secrecy is mandatory. The first priority for the care of
patients facing severe pain as a result of a terminal illness or chronic
condition should be the relief of their pain. Relieving the patient's
psychosocial and other suffering is as important as relieving the patient's pain.
Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been
eased, although serious moral and legal questions still exist . Some opponents
of euthanasia have feared that the increasing success that doctors have had in
transplanting human organs might lead to abuse of the practice of euthanasia. It
is now generally understood, however, that physicians will not violate the
rights of the dying donor in order to help preserve the life of the organ
Even though polls indicate most Americans support the right of sick
people to end their pain through self-inflicted death, euthanasia is one of the
more contentious aspects of the death-with-dignity movement .
"This is really one of the most fundamental abilities that a human being has to
decide if he or she wants to die," says Meyer, who practiced radiology for 40
Slightly more than half of the physicians surveyed in Washington State
would approve the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia
under certain circumstances. A total of 938 physicians completed questionnaires
about their attitudes toward euthanasia and assisted suicide. Physician-
assisted suicide was described as prescribing medication and providing
counseling to patients on overdosing to end their own lives. Euthanasia was
defined as administering an overdose of medication at an ill patient's request.
Forty-two percent of physicians indicated that they found euthanasia ethically
acceptable under some circumstances. Fifty-four percent indicated that they
believed euthanasia should be legal under certain circumstances .
Today, patients are entitled to opt for passive euthanasia; that is, to
make free and informed choices to refuse life support. The controversy over
active euthanasia, however, is likely to remain intense because of opposition
from religious groups and many members of the medical profession .
The medical profession has generally been caught in the middle of the
social controversies that rage over euthanasia. Government and religious groups
as well as the medical profession itself agree that doctors are not required to
use "extraordinary means" to prolong the life of the terminally ill .
The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliment developed and approved the
following substantive and procedural guidelines, or "points" for Dutch
physicians to consider when practicing or administering Euthanasia:
(a) Euthanasia must be voluntary; the patient's request must be
seriously considered and enduring.
(b) The patient must have adequate information about his or her medical
condition, the prognosis, and alternative methods of treatment
(though it is not required that the patient be terminally ill).
(c) The patient's suffering must be intolerable, in the patient's view,
and must also be irreversible.
(d) There must be no reasonable alternatives for relieving the patient's
suffering that are acceptable to the patient.
(e) Euthanasia may be performed only by a physician (though a nurse
may assist the physician).
(f) The physician must consult with a second physician whose judgment
can be expected to be independent.
(g) The physician must exercise due care in reviewing and verifying the
patient's condition as well as in performing the euthanasia
(h) The relatives must be informed unless the patient does not wish
(i) There should be a written record of the case.
(j) The case may not be reported as a natural death. (R-2).
Having choices, including having the legal right for help to die is
what's important in preserving the basic democratic fabric of the United States
of America. The issue of euthanasia is, by it's very nature, a very difficult
and private choice. Euthanasia should remain exactly that; a choice; a choice
that ought not be legislated or restricted by opposing forces or opinions.
(R-1) Assisted suicide: Helping terminally ill, or "quick fix" for
intolerant society? (Originated from Knight-Ridder Newspapers)
by Patty Shillington Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service June
15 '94 p0615
(R-2) Report of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical
Association. (Transcript) v10 Issues in Law & Medicine Summer
(R-3) "Euthanasia," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994
Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's
(R-4) Report of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the
American Medical Association. (Transcript) v10 Issues in Law &
Medicine Summer '94 p91-97
(R-5) The New England Journal of Medicine July 14 '94 p89(6)
(R-6) Death on trial: the case of Dr. Kevorkian obscures critical
issues - and dangers. (Jack Kevorkian) (Cover Story) by Joseph P.
Shapiro il v116 U.S. News & World Report April 25 '94 p31
(R-7) Euthanasia and Medical Decisions Concerning the Ending of Life.
by P.J. van der Maas and J.J.M. Delden
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Euthanasia is a unique practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal disease/illness or an incurable condition by means of the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment or lethal injection. The history of this phenomena dates back for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1906 when the first bill to legalize euthanasia in America was introduced in the Ohio legislature. For several years, legislatures have been turning down bills aimed at the legalization of euthanasia in the United States. In 1937, the Nebraska legislature voted down a bill legalizing voluntary active euthanasia in the U.S. Only two years later, the New York legislature rejected a bill that was also aimed at the legalization of euthanasia in the United States. “In 1991 the Washington State Initiative Bill legalizing voluntary euthanasia was narrowly defeated.” (6) In 1994, Oregon passed a law to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs, but an injunction prevented it from taking effect.
As of today, euthanasia is illegal in almost every country. In fact, it is only legal in the state of Oregon and the Netherlands. These are the only two places in the world where laws specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Oregon permits assisted suicide while the Netherlands permits both euthanasia and assisted suicide. In 1995, Australia’s northern territory approved a euthanasia bill which went into effect in 1996, but it was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997. “Also, in 1997, Columbia’s Supreme Court ruled that penalties for mercy killing should be removed.”(4) This ruling will not go into effect though until guidelines are approved by the Columbian Congress.
In Belgium, lawmakers have agreed on the provisions of a key article in a draft proposal to legalize euthanasia. “The proposed bill would not only allow doctors to euthanasia terminally- ill patients, but also those who are incurably ill with years left to live.” (4) In Michigan, the assisted suicide ballot initiative was defeated due to television ads who are now shifting gears to focus on alternatives to assisted suicide such as hospice care. Advocates for assisted suicide in Michigan are releasing their own radio and television ads in attempt to counter the anti-proposal ads.
Many court cases have come out of the heated topic as well. While the first euthanasia case in Japan was in 1949, it wasn’t until 1962 that the Nagayo Court created a criteria for lawful active euthanasia. ” The court concluded if six conditions could be fulfilled, a death should be admitted as lawful euthanasia.” (6) In 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the Karen Ann Quinlin case that she had the right through her family to refuse life-sustaining treatment. In 1981, A Rotterdam court ruled on conditions under which aiding suicide and administering voluntary euthanasia will not be prosecuted. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands declared that voluntary euthanasia is acceptable subject to ten clearly defined conditions in 1984, and in 1993 the Netherlands passed a law which prevented doctors from being prosecuted when certain guidelines are followed. In 1994, Oregon passed a law to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs, but an injunction prevented it from taking effect. Also in 1994, “delegates from the National People’s Congress in the Republic of China, proposed a law in support of euthanasia.” (6) In 1995, Australia’s Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill by Marshall Perron was instated which allowed euthanasia under careful controls. In 1995, Singapore introduced a right- to-die law which was originally sought after not to legalize euthanasia but to give the terminally ill the right to make a living will.
Throughout this time many societies that were pro euthanasia began forming all over the world. In 1935, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in England was formed by Lord Moynihan and Dr Killick Millard. In 1938, The Euthanasia Society of the United States of America was founded in New York City. In 1973, voluntary euthanasia societies began forming in the Netherlands. Three years later more societies started forming in Japan and Germany. In 1980, “The Voluntary euthanasia Society in Scotland published the first suicide guide, “How to Die With Dignity.” (6) By the 1990’s euthanasia had become a worldwide topic of debate. There are many pros and cons that deal with euthanasia. In dealing with the pro view, the major argument is that all Americans have a constitutional right to life, and with this control of life also comes the authority to end it. “Prohibitions on suicide are viewed by many as a violation of basic constitutional freedoms and governmental interference.” (5) Proponents also use the argument that newly diagnosed patients with terminal illnesses may want to end their lives before they endure physical discomfort or suffering. Patients may want to seek euthanasia in order to avoid being seen in a diminished capacity and protect their memory of an able-bodied life. Another argument for the use of euthanasia is to avoid leaving loved ones the expensive costs of medical care and posing a financial burden to them. Choosing assisted suicide may prove to be more cost efficient than long-term medical care. “Next to pain and suffering, this is the second major reason why people decide to end their lives.”(5) Many proponents see that “The argument against assisted-suicide is advanced by a religious minority who believe that a just, loving god should decide the moment of death.” (3) These are some of the major reasons why proponents for euthanasia support the right to die.
People who oppose the legalization of euthanasia use the argument that once the gate is opened, others lives will be at risk. ” Over time statutes may give rise to broader and less stringent laws that provide people with non-terminal disabilities, an excuse to end their lives.” (5) “Many advocates take the position that legalizing assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia today will lead to active involuntary euthanasia tomorrow.” (5) Another argument is that many people who are terminally ill and feel themselves to be a burden to their family, are not really tired off life and don’t actually want to die. If euthanasia was readily available, the patient might feel obligated to use it.
There are many more arguments on the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide. One dealing with the con view is that the patient’s voluntary and informed consent is never certain because most people who want to die are under duress. If a request is made while an individual is suffering or under excruciating pain, then it is arguable that drugs may have prevented the person from making a fully rational decision. Also it is argued that “the norms of medicine prohibit a physician from ever acting with the intent to kill a patient or to aid him in killing himself.” (1) Some agree as well that “Death is never the answer, and precious lives must be preserved.” (2)
The Hemlock society is a major proponent in assisted suicide. “Hemlock strongly believes that people should be able to have dignity and choice at the end of life. They ought to have the option of a peaceful, gentle, certain and swift death in the company of their loved ones.” (7) The Hemlock society advocated and lobbies for laws that would allow a mentally competent patient to be euthanized with he help of a doctor. Along with this law certain safeguards should be in place such as; a diagnoses of a terminal or irreversible illness by two independent physicians, an evaluation by a mental health professional, a written and witnessed request that is revocable at any time, a waiting period, and monitoring by a state health department.
The American Medical Association strictly opposes the use of euthanasia. “The AMA supports initiatives that help physicians and their patients deal with the clinical and psychological issues at the end-of-life.” (8) They support providing compassionate care for patients nearing death. While modern advances in medical science and technology have helped physicians to treat patients with once critical and life-threatening illnesses, some of these new technologies have merely prolonged the suffering for patients. The AMA still maintains that physicians should practice medicine with respectful and compassionate attitudes.
One pro-life group called Not Dead Yet, understands that people have the right to refuse unwanted treatment. They oppose “a public policy that singles out individuals for legalized killing based on their health status.” (9) They believe that this violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, which denies the equal protection of the law, and health professionals decide who is “eligible.” Not Dead Yet does not want pity or lethal mercy but freedom and life.
CURE is another pro-life group. Their reasons are for compassion and unity. People of CURE believe that “to care is not to kill.” (10) They believe there is an alternative to death and euthanasia which is life and hope. Uniting together will bring strength and a prolonged life.
The International Task Force of Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide also opposes euthanasia. One of their reasons is complications that can occur from usage. Extreme gasping and muscle spasms can occur and has occurred in 7% of cases. While losing consciousness, a person can vomit and then inhale the vomit which has also occurred in 7% of cases. Panic, feelings of terror, and assaultive behavior can take place from the drug-induced confusion. Other problems can include difficulty in taking the drug and a number of days elapsing before death occurs. In 14% of cases there was a failure of the drugs to induce unconsciousness. Another reason why they are anti-euthanasia is because they don’t believe the government should give the right to doctors to kill their patients. They believe that euthanasia is not giving the right to die but the right to kill. There are other alternatives like Hospice which tries to make the patients remaining time comfortable, alleviating pains, and giving spiritual and emotional support.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 71 year old retired pathologist, is known to many as the patriarch of assisted suicide. He is currently serving a sentence of 10-25 in a Michigan correctional facility for his involvement in helping at least 130 people die from euthanasia. He was charged for murder in both 1991 and 1992 when patients of his used a suicide machine he developed, and his medical licence was revoked. Both charges were later dropped though when state judges pointed out that there were no laws against assisted suicide in the state of Michigan. It wasn’t until 1993 when assisted suicide laws took effect, and Kevorkian, who had killed several more patients by this time, was charged again for murder. He served some jail time when he refused to pay the bail after the judge raised it. He was released from jail though later that year when supporters posted the bail.
Between 1994 and 1996, Kevorkian killed some thirty more patients, and is charged for murder three more times. He is acquitted for these cases as well. In 1998, Kevorkian videotaped the injection death of Thomas Youk which aired two months later on “60 Minutes.” He is again charged for murder, and in 1999 is convicted for second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance. Dr. Kevorkian remains one of the most controversial physicians in America today. He has been hailed by some as a hero and by others, little more than a serial killer.
I believe that the legalization of euthanasia would be a good thing for America. An individuals right to determine the time and manner of their death is more important than keeping a suffering person alive for the sake of preserving life. I understand that the legalization of euthanasia will most likely lead to an excuse for many people who are not terminally to end their own lives. But I do believe that an evaluation by a mental health professional for those suspected to have clinical depression or mental incompetence can help prevent most of this. There are many good points and bad points to the legalization of assisted suicide like any controversial issue. I understand it to be a good thing though if a person truly is suffering and has no hopeful prospects for the future.
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