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Argument Against Euthanasia
A considerable size of society is in favor of Euthanasia mostly
because they feel that as a democratic country, we as free individuals,
have the right to decide for ourselves whether or not it is our right to
determine when to terminate someone's life. The stronger and more widely
held opinion is against Euthanasia primarily because society feels that it
is god's task to determine when one of his creations time has come, and we
as human beings are in no position to behave as god and end someone's life.
When humans take it upon themselves to shorten their lives or to have
others to do it for them by withdrawing life-sustaining apparatus, they
play god. They usurp the divine function, and interfere with the divine
Euthanasia is the practice of painlessly putting to death persons
who have incurable, painful, or distressing diseases or handicaps. It come
from the Greek words for 'good' and 'death', and is commonly called mercy
killing. Voluntary euthanasia may occur when incurably ill persons ask
their physician, friend or relative, to put them to death. The patients or
their relatives may ask a doctor to withhold treatment and let them die.
Many critics of the medical profession contend that too often doctors play
god on operating tables and in recovery rooms. They argue that no doctor
should be allowed to decide who lives and who dies.
The issue of euthanasia is having a tremendous impact on medicine
in the United States today. It was only in the nineteenth century that the
word came to be used in the sense of speeding up the process of dying and
the destruction of so-called useless lives. Today it is defined as the
deliberate ending of life of a person suffering from an incurable disease.
A distinction is made between positive, or active, and negative, or
passive, euthanasia. Positive euthanasia is the deliberate ending of life;
an action taken to cause death in a person. Negative euthanasia is defined
as the withholding of life preserving procedures and treatments that would
prolong the life of one who is incurably and terminally ill and couldn't
survive without them. The word euthanasia becomes a respectable part of
our vocabulary in a subtle way, via the phrase ' death with dignity'.
Tolerance of euthanasia is not limited to our own country. A court
case in South Africa, s. v. Hatmann (1975), illustrates this quite well. A
medical practitioner, seeing his eighty-seven year old father suffering
from terminal cancer of the prostate, injected an overdose of Morphine and
Thiopental, causing his father's death within seconds. The court charged
the practitioner as guilty of murder because 'the law is clear that it
nonetheless constitutes the crime of murder, even if all that an accused
had done is to hasten the death of a human being who was due to die in any
event'. In spite of this charge, the court simply imposed a nominal
sentence; that is, imprisonment until the rising of the court. (Friedman
Once any group of human beings is considered unworthy of living,
what is to stop our society from extending this cruelty to other groups? If
the mongoloid is to be deprived of his right to life, what of the blind
and deaf? and What about of the cripple, the retarded, and the senile?
Courts and moral philosophers alike have long accepted the
proposition that people have a right to refuse medical treatment they find
painful or difficult to bear, even if that refusal means certain death.
But an appellate court in California has gone one controversial step
further. (Walter 176)
It ruled that Elizabeth Bouvia, a cerebral palsy victim, had an
absolute right to refuse a life-sustaining feeding tube as part of her
privacy rights under the US and California constitutions. This was the
nation's most sweeping decision in perhaps the most controversial realm of
the rights explosion: the right to die...
As individuals and as a society, we have the positive obligation
to protect life. The second precept is that we have the negative
obligation not to destroy or injure human life directly, especially the
life of the innocent and invulnerable. It has been reasoned that the
protection of innocent life- and therefore, opposition to abortion, murder,
suicide, and euthanasia- pertains to the common good of society.
Among the potential effects of a legalised practice of euthanasia
are the following:
"Reduced pressure to improve curative or symptomatic treatment".
If euthanasia had been legal 40 years ago, it is quite possible that there
would be no hospice movement today. The improvement in terminal care is a
direct result of attempts made to minimize suffering. If that suffering
had been extinguished by extinguishing the patients who bore it, then we
may never have known the advances in the control of pain, nausea,
breathlessness, and other terminal symptoms that the last twenty years
have seen. Some diseases that were terminal a few decades ago are now
routinely cured by newly developed treatments. Earlier acceptance of
euthanasia might well have undercut the urgency of the research efforts
which led to the discovery of those treatments. If we accept euthanasia
now, we may well delay by decades the discovery of effective treatments
for those diseases that are now terminal. (Brock 76)
"Abandonment of Hope". Every doctor can tell stories of patients
expected to die within days who surprise everyone with their extraordinary
recoveries. Every doctor has experienced the wonderful embarrassment of
being proven wrong in their pessimistic prognosis. To make euthanasia a
legitimate option as soon as the prognosis is pessimistic enough is to
reduce the probability of such extraordinary recoveries from low to zero.
"Increased fear of hospitals and doctors". Despite all the efforts
of health education, it seems there will always be a transference of the
patient's fear of illness from the illness to the doctors and hospitals
who treat it. This fear is still very real and leads to large numbers of
late presentations of illnesses that might have been cured if only the
patients had sought help earlier. To institutionalize euthanasia, however
carefully, would undoubtedly magnify all the latent fear of doctors and
hospitals harbored by the public. The inevitable result would be a rise in
late presentations and, therefore, preventable deaths.
"Difficulties of oversight and regulation". Both the Dutch and the
California proposals list sets of precautions designed to prevent abuses.
They acknowledge that such are a possibility. The history of legal
"loopholes" is not a cheering one. Abuses might arise when the patient is
wealthy and an inheritance is at stake, when the doctor has made mistakes
in diagnosis and treatment and hopes to avoid detection, when insurance
coverage for treatment costs is about to expire, and in a host of other
circumstances. (Maguire 321)
"Pressure on the Patient". Both sets of proposals seek to limit
the influence of the patient's family on the decision, again acknowledging
the risks posed by such influences. Families have all kinds of subtle ways,
conscious and unconscious, of putting pressure on a patient to request
euthanasia and relive them of the financial and social burden of care.
Many patients already feel guilty for imposing burdens on those on those
who care for them, even when the families are happy to bear the burden. To
provide an avenue for the discharge of that guilt in a request for
euthanasia is to risk putting to death a great many patients who do not
wish to die.
"Conflict with aims of medicine". The pro-euthanasia movement
cheerfully hands the dirty work of the actual killing to the doctors who
by and large , neither seek nor welcome the responsibility. There is
little examination of the psychological stresses imposed on those whose
training and professional outlook are geared to the saving of lives by
asking them to start taking lives on a regular basis. Euthanasia advocates
seem very confident that doctors can be relied on to make the enormous
efforts sometimes necessary to save some lives, while at the same time
assenting to requests to take other lives. Such confidence reflects,
perhaps, a high opinion of doctor's psychic robustness, but it is a
confidence seriously undermined by the shocking rates of depression,
suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital discord consistently
recorded among this group.
"Dangers of Societal Acceptance". It must never be forgotten that
doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators have personal lives, homes
and families, or that they are something more than just doctors, nurses,
or hospital administrators. They are citizens and a significant part of
the society around them. We should be very worried about what the
institutionalization of euthanasia will do to society, in general , how
will we regard murderers? (Brody 89)
"The Slippery Slope". How long after acceptance of voluntary
euthanasia will we hear the calls for non-voluntary euthanasia? There are
thousands of comatose or demented patients sustained by little more than
good nursing care. They are an enormous financial and social burden. How
long will the advocates of euthanasia be arguing that we should "assist
them in dying".
"Costs and Benefits". Perhaps the most disturbing risk of all is
posed by the growing concern over medical costs. Euthanasia is, after all,
a very cheap service. The cost of a dose of barbiturates and curare and
the few hours in a hospital bed that it takes them to act is minute
compared to the massive bills incurred by many patients in the last weeks
and months of their lives. Already in Britain, There is a serious under-
provision of expensive therapies like renal dialysis and intensive care,
with the result that many otherwise preventable deaths occur. Legalizing
euthanasia would save substantial financial resources which could be
diverted to more "useful" treatments. These economic concerns already
exert pressure to accept euthanasia, and, if accepted, they will
inevitability tend to enlarge the category of patients for whom euthanasia
"Do not tolerate killing". Now is the time for the medical
profession to rally in defense of its fundamental moral principles, to
repudiate any and all acts of direct and intentional killing by physicians
and their agents. We call on the profession and its leadership to obtain
the best advice, regarding both theory and practice, about how to defend
the profession's moral center and to resist growing pressures both from
without and from within. We call on fellow physicians to say that we will
not deliberately kill. We must say also to each of our fellow physicians
that we will not tolerate killing of patients and that we shall take
disciplinary action against doctors who kill. (Chapman 209)
On the other hand some people strongly feel that euthanasia is not
bad and should not be looked down upon.
Are there no conditions when life is meaningless and should be
quietly ended? If a person is subject to pain that won't stop as a result
of a disease that can't be cured, must he or she suffer that pain as long
as possible when there are gentle ways of putting an end to life? If a
person suffers from a disease that deprives him or her of all memory and
makes him or her a helpless lump of flesh that may live on for years.
If euthanasia were legalized,it should be admitted that there
might be some abuses of virtually every social practice. There is no
absolute guarantee against that. But we do not normally think that a
social practice should be precluded simply because it might sometimes be
abused. The crucial issue is whether the evil of the abuses would be so
great as to outweigh the benefit of the practice. In the case of
euthanasia, the question is whether the abuses, or the consequences
generally, would be so numerous as to outweigh the advantages of
legalization. The choice is not between a present policy that is benign
and an alternative that is potentially dangerous. The present policy had
it's evils, too.
We spend more than a billion dollars a day for health car while
our teachers are underpaid, and our industrial plants are rusty. This
should not continue. There is something fundamentally insustainable about
a society that moves its basic value-producing industries overseas yet
continues to manufacture artificial hearts at home. We have money to give
smokers heart transplants but no money to retool out steel mills. We train
more doctors and lawyers than we need but fewer teachers. On any given day,
30 to 40 percent of the hospital beds in America are empty, but our
classrooms are overcrowded and our transportation systems are
deteriorating. We are great at treating sick people, but we are not that
great at treating a sick economy. And we are not succeeding in
international trade. When you really look around and try to find
industries the United States is succeeding in, you discover that they are
very few and far between.(Lamm 133)
There is no way we are going to come to grips with this problem
until we also look at some of these areas that aren't going to go away .
One of the toughest of these is what Victor Fuchs called "flat-of-the-
curve medicine"- those medical procedures which are the highest in cost
but achieve little or no improvement in health status. He says that they
must be reduced or eliminated. We must demand that professional societies
and licensing authorities establish some norms and standards for
diagnostic and therapeutic practice that encompass both costs and medicine.
Wer'e going to have to come up with some sort of concept of cost-effective
Individuals have the right to decide about their own lives and
deaths. What more basic right is there than to decide if you're going to
live? There is none. A person under a death sentence who's being kept
alive, through so called heroic measures certainly has a fundamental right
to say, "Enough's enough. The treatment's worse than the disease. Leave me
alone. Let me die!". Ironically, those who deny the terminally ill this
right do so out of a sense of high morality. Don't they see that, in
denying the gravely ill and suffering the right to release themselves from
pain, they commit the greatest crime?
The period of suffering can be shortened. If you have ever been in
a terminal cancer ward, It's grim but enlightening. Anyone who's been there
can know how much people can suffer before they die. And not just
physically. The emotional, even spiritual, agony is often worse. Today our
medical hardware is so sophisticated that the period of suffering can be
extended beyond the limit of human endurance. What's the point of allowing
someone a few more months or days or hours of so-called life when death is
inevitable? There's no point. In fact, it's downright inhumane. When
someone under such conditions asks to be allowed to die, it's far more
humane to honor that request than to deny it.(Barry 405)
People have a right to die with dignity. Nobody wants to end up
plugged into machines and wired to tubes.
Who wants to spend their last days lying in a hospital bed wasting
away to something that's hardly recognizable as a human being, let alone
his or her former self? Nobody. The very thought insults the whole concept
of what it means to be human. People are entitled to dignity, in life and
in death. Just as we respect people's right to live with dignity, so we
must respect their right to die with dignity. In the case of the
terminally ill, that means people have the right to refuse life-sustaining
treatment when it's apparent to them that all the treatment is doing is
destroying their dignity, and reducing them to some subhuman level of
The reasons just stated in favor of euthanasia are often over
looked due to the following arguments that are against euthanasia.
The way you talk you'd think people have absolute right over their
bodies and lives. But that is obviously just not true. No individual has
absolute freedom. Even the patient's Bill of Rights, which was drawn up by
the American Hospital Association, recognizes this. Although it
acknowledges that patients have the right to refuse treatment, the
document also realizes that they have this right and freedom only to the
extent permitted by law. Maybe people should be allowed to die if they
want to. But if so, it's not because they have an absolute right to
dispose of themselves if they want to.(Brock 73)
Only a fool would minimize the agony that many terminally ill
patient endure. And there's no question that by letting them die on request
we shorten the period of suffering. But we also shorten their lives. Can
you seriously argue that the saving of pain is greater good than the
saving of life? Or that presence of pain is worse than the loss of life?
Of course, nobody likes to see a creature suffer, especially when the
creature has requested a halt to the suffering. But we have to keep our
Pro euthanasianists make it sound as though the superhuman efforts
made to keep people alive are not worthy of human beings. What could be
more respectful of human life, than to maintain life against all odds, and
against all hope?
All of life is a struggle and a gamble. At the gaming table of
life, nobody ever knows what the outcome will be. " Indeed, humans are
noblest when they persist in the face of the inevitable. Look at our
literature. Reflect on our heroes. They are not those who have capitulated
but those who have endured. No, there's nothing undignified against being
hollowed out by a catastrophic disease, about writhing in pain, about
wishing it would end. The indignity lies in capitulation".(Buchanan 208)
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The right to assisted suicide is a significant topic that concerns people all over the United States. The debates go back and forth about whether a dying patient has the right to die with the assistance of a physician. Some are against it because of religious and moral reasons. Others are for it because of their compassion and respect for the dying. Physicians are also divided on the issue. They differ where they place the line that separates relief from dying--and killing. For many the main concern with assisted suicide lies with the competence of the terminally ill. Many terminally ill patients who are in the final stages of their lives have requested doctors to aid them in exercising active euthanasia. It is sad to realize that these people are in great agony and that to them the only hope of bringing that agony to a halt is through assisted suicide.When people see the word euthanasia, they see the meaning of the word in two different lights. Euthanasia for some carries a negative connotation; it is the same as murder. For others, however, euthanasia is the act of putting someone to death painlessly, or allowing a person suffering from an incurable and painful disease or condition to die by withholding extreme medical measures. But after studying both sides of the issue, a compassionate individual must conclude that competent terminal patients should be given the right to assisted suicide in order to end their suffering, reduce the damaging financial effects of hospital care on their families, and preserve the individual right of people to determine their own fate.
Medical technology today has achieved remarkable feats in prolonging the lives of human beings. Respirators can support a patient’s failing lungs and medicines can sustain that patient’s physiological processes. For those patients who have a realistic chance of surviving an illness or accident, medical technology is science’s greatest gift to mankind. For the terminally ill, however, it is just a means of prolonging suffering. Medicine is supposed to alleviate the suffering that a patient undergoes.Yet the only thing that medical technology does for a dying patient is give that patient more pain and agony day after day. Some terminal patients in the past have gone to their doctors and asked for a final medication that would take all the pain away— lethal drugs. For example, as Ronald Dworkin recounts, Lillian Boyes, an English woman who was suffering from a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, begged her doctor to assist her to die because she could no longer stand the pain (184). Another example is Dr. Ali Khalili, Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s twentieth patient. According to Kevorkian’s attorney, “[Dr. Khalili] was a pain specialist; he could get any kind of pain medication, but he came to Dr. Kevorkian. There are times when pain medication does not suffice”(qtd. in Cotton 363). Terminally ill patients should have the right to assisted suicide because it is the best means for them to end the pain caused by an illness which no drug can cure. A competent terminal patient must have the option of assisted suicide because it is in the best interest of that person.
Further, a dying person’s physical suffering can be most unbearable to that person’s immediate family. Medical technology has failed to save a loved-one. But, successful or not, medicine has a high price attached to it. The cost is sometimes too much for the terminally ill’s family. A competent dying person has some knowledge of this, and with every day that he or she is kept alive, the hospital costs skyrocket. “The cost of maintaining [a dying person]. . . has been estimated as ranging from about two thousand to ten thousand dollars a month” (Dworkin 187). Human life is expensive, and in the hospital there are only a few affluent terminal patients who can afford to prolong what life is left in them. As for the not-so-affluent patients, the cost of their lives is left to their families. Of course, most families do not consider the cost while the terminally ill loved-one is still alive.When that loved-one passes away, however, the family has to struggle with a huge hospital bill and are often subject to financial ruin.Most terminal patients want their death to be a peaceful one and with as much consolation as possible. Ronald Dworkin, author of Life’s Dominion, says that “many people . . . want to save their relatives the expense of keeping them pointlessly alive . . .”(193). To leave the family in financial ruin is by no means a form of consolation. Those terminally ill patients who have accepted their imminent death cannot prevent their families from plunging into financial debt because they do not have the option of halting the medical bills from piling up. If terminal patients have the option of assisted suicide, they can ease their families’ financial burdens as well as their suffering.
Finally, many terminal patients want the right to assisted suicide because it is a means to endure their end without the unnecessary suffering and cost. Most, also, believe that the right to assisted suicide is an inherent right which does not have to be given to the individual. It is a liberty which cannot be denied because those who are dying might want to use this liberty as a way to pursue their happiness. Dr. Kevorkian’s attorney, Geoffrey N. Fieger, voices the absurdity of curbing the right to assisted suicide, saying that “a law which does not make anybody do anything, that gives people the right to decide, and prevents the state from prosecuting you for exercising your freedom not to suffer, violates somebody else’s constitutional rights is insane” (qtd. in Cotton 364). Terminally ill patients should be allowed to die with dignity. Choosing the right to assisted suicide would be a final exercise of autonomy for the dying. They will not be seen as people who are waiting to die but as human beings making one final active choice in their lives. As Dworkin puts it, “whatever view we take about [euthanasia], we want the right to decide for ourselves . . .”(239).
On the other side of the issue, however, people who are against assisted suicide do not believe that the terminally ill have the right to end their suffering. They hold that it is against the Hippocratic Oath for doctors to participate in active euthanasia. Perhaps most of those who hold this argument do not know that, for example, in Canada only a “few medical schools use the Hippocratic Oath” because it is inconsistent with its premises (Barnard 28). The oath makes the physician promise to relieve pain and not to administer deadly medicine.This oath cannot be applied to cancer patients. For treatment, cancer patients are given chemotherapy, a form of radioactive medicine that is poisonous to the body. As a result of chemotherapy, the body suffers incredible pain, hair loss, vomiting, and other extremely unpleasant side effects. Thus, chemotherapy can be considered “deadly medicine” because of its effects on the human body, and this inconsistency is the reason why the Hippocratic Oath cannot be used to deny the right to assisted suicide. Furthermore, to administer numerous drugs to a terminal patient and place him or her on medical equipment does not help anything except the disease itself. Respirators and high dosages of drugs cannot save the terminal patient from the victory of a disease or an illness. Dr. Christaan Barnard, author of Good Life/GoodDeath, quotes his colleague, Dr. Robert Twycross, who said, “To use such measures in the terminally ill, with no expectancy of a return to health, is generally inappropriate and is—therefore—bad medicine by definition” (22).
Still other people argue that if the right to assisted suicide is given, the doctor-patient relationship would encourage distrust. The antithesis of this claim is true. Cheryl Smith, in her article advocating active euthanasia (or assisted suicide), says that “patients who are able to discuss sensitive issues such as this are more likely to trust their physicians” (409). A terminal patient consenting to assisted suicide knows that a doctor’s job is to relieve pain, and giving consent to that doctor shows great trust. Other opponents of assisted suicide insist that there are potential abuses that can arise from legalizing assisted suicide.They claim that terminal patients might be forced to choose assisted suicide because of their financial situation.This view is to be respected. However, the choice of assisted suicide is in the patient’s best interest, and this interest can include the financial situation of a patient’s relatives. Competent terminal patients can easily see the sorrow and grief that their families undergo while they wait for death to take their dying loved ones away. The choice of assisted suicide would allow these terminally ill patients to end the sorrow and griefof their families as well as their own misery. The choice would also put a halt to the financial worries of these families. It is in the patient’s interest that the families that they leave will be subject to the smallest amount of grief and worry possible.This is not a mere “duty to die.” It is a caring way for the dying to say, “Yes, I am going to die. It is all right, please do not worry anymore.” Further, legalization of assisted suicide will also help to regulate the practice of it. “Legalization, with medical record documentation and reporting requirements, will enable authorities to regulate the practice and guard against abuses, while punishing real offenders”(Smith 409).
There are still some, however, who argue that the right to assisted suicide is not a right that can be given to anyone at all. This claim is countered by a judge by the name of Stephen Reinhardt. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Judge Reinhardt ruled on this issue by saying that “a competent, terminally-ill adult, having lived nearly the full measure of his life, has a strong liberty interest in choosing a dignified and humane death rather than being reduced at the end of his existence to a childlike state of helplessness, diapered, sedated, incompetent” ( qtd. in Beck 36). This ruling is the strongest defense for the right to assisted suicide. It is an inherent right. No man or woman should ever suffer because he or she is denied the right. The terminally ill also have rights like normal, healthy citizens do and they cannot be denied the right not to suffer.
The right to assisted suicide must be freely bestowed upon those who are terminally ill. This right would allow them to leave this earth with dignity, save their families from financial ruin, and relieve them of insufferable pain. To give competent, terminally-ill adults this necessary right is to give them the autonomy to close the book on a life well-lived.
Barnard, Christaan. Good Life/Good Death. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1980.
Beck, Joan. “Answers to Right-to-Die Questions Hard.”Houston Chronicle 16 Mar. 1996, late ed.: 36.
Cotton, Paul. “Medicine’s Position Is Both Pivotal And Precarious In Assisted Suicide Debate." The
Journal of the American Association 1 Feb. 1995: 363-64.
Dworkin, Ronald. Life’s Dominion. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Smith, Cheryl. “Should Active Euthanasia Be Legalized: Yes.” American Bar Association Journal April 1993. Rpt. in CQ
Researcher 5.1 (1995): 409.
--Esther B. De La Torre