Euthanasia: Types and Arguments For and Against

The word Euthanasia originated from the Greek language; “eu” means “good” and thanatos means “death”. Some people define euthanasia to include both voluntary and involuntary termination of life (Robinson, 2002).

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One of the most common forms of euthanasia is the so-called physician assisted suicide which is normally done with a physician supplying the needed information to commit the suicide act (which may include prescribing a lethal dose of sleeping pills, or supplying of carbon monoxide gas) to a person, so that they can easily terminate their own life (Robinson, 2002). The term “voluntary passive euthanasia” (VPE) is becoming commonly used. One writer suggests the use of the verb “to kevork” which originated from the name of the person who instigated the idea of VPE, Dr. Kevorkian (Robinson, 2002).

There are four types of euthanasia: active voluntary, active involuntary, passive voluntary and passive involuntary. Active voluntary means that positive steps are taken to hasten death and that the person has consented. In active voluntary and active involuntary euthanasia the purpose is to hasten death through active steps. Quite probably a state’s criminal justice system would classify either as homicide or manslaughter. Justification for active euthanasia varies: the wishes of autonomous persons must be respected; it is merciful to end a painful, purposeless existence, and we ought to be merciful; the quality of life is so poor that no one could possibly want to live in this condition; or assistance in dying is what the person would want were communication possible (Robinson, 2002).

Passive voluntary euthanasia occurs when treatment is withheld or withdrawn with the person’s consent. Both types of passive euthanasia are common, ethical, and legal and are often highly emotional, value-laden, and complex events (whether or not there are advance directives) because of family disagreements and the value systems of caregivers and organizations. Persons able to direct their care must give informed consent to withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment. Euthanasia should be considered voluntary if persons unable to direct their care have a healthcare proxy who decides for them (Robinson, 2002).

Effective pain management may have the indirect and unintended consequence of shortening life. Pain management must be distinguished from the administration of, or providing patients’ access to and advice about using, medications in such quantity that the direct and intended consequence is to cause death. The physician’s ethic to “comfort always” includes providing sufficient medication to alleviate pain; the fact that life is shortened as a result is an unintended consequence and morally and legally acceptable (Robinson, 2002).

At present, only Oregon has legalized active voluntary euthanasia with physician assistance. Court challenges have stopped implementation of the law, however. As noted, it is a crime in almost all states to take active steps intended to hasten death, even for the terminally ill. The criminality of assisting a suicide is not diminished because there have been cases, in which active euthanasia occurred, but grand juries did not indict, prosecutors refused to prosecute, or juries did not convict. This is an application of the law, not a measure of an action’s prima facie illegality (Robinson, 2002).

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As physician assisted suicide has long been correlated to euthanasia, there are some modern studies which negate that physician-assisted suicide, commonly called “aid in dying,” is in fact not in any way an act of euthanasia. Despite sharing some characteristics with voluntary (patient-initiated), active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide has a critical difference: it occurs when a physician provides the means (usually drugs) and advice that enable the person to commit suicide. Needless to say, it will be the person or the patient himself, and not the physician, who will perform and initiate his own death. Broadly defined, it is a “good death” because it is likely to be pain free; it is not, however, euthanasia as described above. When persons physically unable to commit suicide are helped to die, it is known as voluntary, active euthanasia. The mental competence of those who wish to be assisted in suicide remains a continuing, nagging problem (Gibbs 1990).

Issues Against Physician Assisted Suicide

There are lots of issues that need to be addressed when talking about euthanasia – this can be related to moral values, religions and ethics.

Euthanasia directly disrespects the religious sectors’ love for life. Thomas Aquinas documented and condemned all forms of suicide. Church and religious people agree with him that euthanasia (whether assisted or not) violates one’s natural desire to live. It harms other people. Euthanasia, according to them, opposed what has been taught in every religion that life is the gift of God and is thus only to be taken by God (Classic Theories on the Morality of Suicide, 2004).

Euthanasia will surely reduce the pressure to improve curative or symptomatic treatment. The act of not legalizing euthanasia paved way to the hospice movements that we have now. Indeed, to suggest that euthanasia is a legitimate option as soon as the prognosis is pessimistic enough is to reduce the probability of such extraordinary recoveries from low to zero (Arguments Against Euthanasia, 2004).

Euthanasia will definitely increase fear for hospitals and doctors. The inevitable result would be a rise in late presentations and, therefore, preventable deaths (Arguments Against Euthanasia, 2004). Societal acceptance will also be greatly endangered. We should be very worried about what the institutionalization of euthanasia will do to society, in general, how will we regard murderers? (Brody, 1988).

Counter Arguments

But for more of the pro – euthanasia, they see it as a practice of every citizen’s freedom of choice along with the chance to die with dignity (Callahan, 1993). If you are terminally ill, suffering from too much pain because of the disease, why will you not be allowed to rest in peace? And besides, why let your loved ones, who are still in their active lives, suffer also because of you? For the pro – euthanasia, one suffering is enough and they feel that by letting that sick person to choose what he really wanted of his very minimal life is the only consolation that they could give them.

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References

  1. Arguments Against Euthanasia. 2004.
  2. Assisted suicide takes a hit in report. 2000. Washington Times,  A7.
  3. Brock, Dan. Deciding For Others. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  4. Brody, Baruch. Life And Death Decision Making. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  5. Callahan D. The Troubled Dream of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  6. Classic Theories on the Morality of Suicide. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2004.
  7. Gibbs, Nancy. 1990. Dr. Death’s suicide machine. Time, 69-70.
  8. Murray, Frank J. 1995. High court won’t touch Michigan suicide-aid ban. Washington Times,  A-1.
  9. Robinson, B.A. Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide. 2002. Ontario Cunsultants. 2004. Web.

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