Euthanasia has become an issue of increasing attention because of Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicides. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an U.S. physician, has injected physician-assisted euthanasia sharply into the agenda of public issues widely discussed in the United States. His activities have brought with them several moral, ethical and legal concerns regarding this controversial topic. Who has the right to choose death, and under what circumstances? What responsibility does a physician have to sustain life when witnessing a patient suffering? What role should law play in this personal matter, and who should have the authority to control individual wishes regarding his or her own body? Euthanasia should be legalized so, if we ever have a loved one that is suffering and death is certain, that we have the choice to ease their pain.
With the passing of this law that most people would be against the right-to-die, not so. In a poll cited in a 1998 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 th4e 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 62).
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. About half the public think a “”oral right” to suicide exists if a person has an incurable disease or is suffering great pain with no hope of recovering (Colasnto 63). And 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 dependent on a family member, then forty percent of their parents would want medical treatment stopped if daily activities became a burden (Colasnto 63). 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 24). Another reason is euthanasia will lead to the “devaluation of life” (Low 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 117).
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, they should have the choice to continue on or to peacefully die, even if they need assistance in doing so (Larue 153).
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 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 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?
Not all the should everything be done to preserve a life. 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 can’t achieve today. And that is stop the suffering of the patient” (Battin 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 termianl 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” (Battin 92).
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 43). How can anybody say mercy is against God? But God would want people to die in peace and without pain. If anything is against God, then it is trying to live longer than God had intended people to.
The United States was founded because people wanted to be free. Americans have fought for freedom ever since. If euthanasia is made illegal, it will take away one of the founding freedoms, the freedom of choice, the freedom for a person to choose a death with dignity and free of pain and suffering for themselves and their families. As Seneca quoted in Bolander writes, “A punishment to some, to some a gift, and to many a favor” (Bolander 24).