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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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