Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide
Euthanasia care is a new and controversial topic that needs to be addressed. Most people end their lives in pain and suffering without their desires towards treatment options met. One study found that "more often than not, patients died in pain, their desires concerning treatment were neglected, after spending ten days in an intensive care unit (Horogan, 1)". Euthanasia originated from the Greek language eu, which means "good" and thanatos which means "death". One definition given to this term is "the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies" ( religious tolerance,1 ) . Briefly this states that the person who wishes to commit suicide must request the death. In recent years the number of patients that have been facilitating the intensive care unit for periods of time, generally leading to a painful and uncomfortable death, has been on the up rise. Unfortunately most states and medical providers have failed to recognize this. Doctors and physicians are being addressed on their knowledge of palliative care and their readiness to successfully meet the needs of their patients before the time of their death. Despite increasing public sympathy for euthanasia, there is widespread confusion as to what it signifies. Many terminally ill patients turn to physician-assisted suicide not because they cannot be cured, but because they cannot bear the thought of physical pain. Terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their lives with dignity, physician assisted suicide idividual has dominion over their body and should be allowed to decide when to end their life." (Murphy, Jan. 00) "To achieve that end, with dignity and without pain, doctors should be allowed to aid terminal patients by providing necessary doses of drugs." (Murphy, Jan. 00) The choice lies solely in the hands of the patient; no outside force has any control over the decisions and steps that you take towards the care of your body. Since the law was finally approved in 1997, forty-three people have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend their last moments of life in a carefree, peaceful state. The patient is in complete control of the drugs, the doctors are not allowed to administer the substance, they are only allowed to prescribe a lethal dose. This law rests on a thin line. Many say that patients experiencing extreme pain are not competent enough to make a clear-minded decision whether they want to live or die. When life becomes unbearable, quick death can be the answer. If a patient that spends every day in excruciating pain and is given the ability to take it all away at the switch of a button and give up on the fight for life the majority would utilize this. If living persons become so ill that they cannot tolerate the pain, they have a right to die to an escape from torment.
It is not morally acceptable to commit suicide in our society. Though it has been recently legalized many believe that one should not hold the power to kill themselves and take away the life that God has given them. Christians and many other faiths argue that "Life is a gift from God and each individual is its steward, only God can start a life and only God should be allowed to end one. God does not send us any experience that we can not handle." (Religious aspects, 4) Unfortunately with the day and age that we live in this statement is unreasonable. Because of modern medicine and health care benefits people are now able to enhance the conditions of their lives and control debilitative diseases. Religiously speaking, yes God did give life to us, but he also gave us the freedom to do what we want with it. You control your life and the actions that you take. God made man and man made the world and society that we live in. We were placed in this world and left to establish our own means of survival. If God is the only one to control life and the time that you spend here on earth then there are millions of people playing God everyday. People suffering from incurable diseases or injuries that would have died are being kept alive on machines. The initial purpose of a doctor is to save lives and improve the quality of life for those in pain. Prescription medicines, life support machines, organ donations and all other medical practices are intervening with the natural cycle of life. Why then is assisting someone that can not be helped by any of these resources to die without experiencing the pain they have endured for an extensive period of time wrong? Because our medical technology has improved so much, we are literally able to postpone death. Why would you keep a human being alive when they are no longer able to function on their own and control their own physical actions. Those who are victims of debilitative diseases have learned to adapt into the m!
edical world and trust the decisions of their physician. With regard to medical procedures, a large percentage of palliative-care professionals agree that it is ethical to stop or forgo medical procedures at the request of a terminally ill, mentally competent patient if the illness is progressing and there is very little chance of halting its progress or restoring the health of the patient. After a disease has ran its course and there is no hope of recovery a suffering individual deserves the right to make the choice of whether they want to live or die.
Although the act of euthanasia is quite simple, there are two different types: active and passive. Active euthanasia is when life is ended directly by administering a drug of lethal dose. Passive euthanasia is administered by the withdrawal of life-support devices, medications, and even fluids (Barnard, 27). Active euthanasia is illegal and has been debated in the courts while passive is generally left up to the physician and the family. Many people argue against euthanasia saying that life should be preserved at all costs. Doctors, for example, take an oath to preserve life and ease pain. There are many cases when the doctor of a critically ill patient is requested by the family to stop the medical treatment and let the patient die. The doctor either refuses or delays the act prior to the miraculous recovery of the patient. It is extremely hard to decide without a doubt that a patient cannot recover. If the doctor had acted on the request of the family, then it truly would be murder. There is also the case in which a terminally ill patient has not relayed his wishes and is incapable of doing so in his condition. It is impossible to make the judgment on what the patient really wants at this point. Is it justified for the family to make the decision to let their loved one live? It is too easy to let other motives influence that type of decision. The family very well could decide on the life of their loved one based on the burden of doctor bills or even the need for the inheritance instead of the well being of their beloved. It is also shown that "80% of relatives preferred to have their terminally ill loved ones die in the hospital, while 80% of dying persons...said they would prefer to die at home" (Barnard, 21).
In the fall of 1994 a Saskatchewan farmer killed his 12-year-old daughter with the exhaust from his pickup truck. The death of the girl, a longtime sufferer from severe cerebral palsy, resulted in the man's being convicted of second-degree murder. Yet many people, seeing the father's action as compassionate, approved of what he had done and called for a change in the law. The girl's life was not worth living, they said, and the man was to be applauded for deciding on her behalf that this was so. His conviction is currently under appeal.
In 2001 a case involving a woman with motor neuron disease was denied her right to "die with dignity at the time of her choosing with her husbands help" (British Med J., 953). She argued that "the right to life also included the right to choose to end one’s life" ( British Med. J, 953 p. 4). This woman was diagnosed in 1999 and now has no movement from her neck down and is fed through a tube. Euthanasia treatments were denied to this terminally ill victim who in turn was forced to spend her last weeks of life in a vegetative state, unable to function and end her life in peace. She would suffer for the last moments of her life as the disease ran its course. This woman did everything that she could to control and improve the condition of her illness, there was no further medical practices that could be done to save her life. She left this world as a rotting corpse absent of a soul able to pass on in peace. In this case along with many others death was
inevitable, yet the victims were forced to suffer and live out their lives against their will.
If a person is suffering terribly and has no hope of recovering, should their death still be postponed as long as possible? In many cases, it is impossible to relieve suffering while preserving life. With our medical advances, we can delay death even long after the brain stops functioning. Is it right to use our technology to keep a person alive as long as possible even if he can't tolerate the anguish? (Trubo,57). "The Brain is the organ that determines the quality of life, and the individual dies when his brain dies" (Barnard 7). In the many cases in which euthanasia is argued, the patient would have died long before without medical treatment in the first place. Because of the doctors' intervention, there is only a person in pain being kept alive by machines. In all of our great medical advances, we have forgotten that people still have to die. We must draw the line and decide that when a patient will not recover, is in great pain, and he or his families wish it, then the patient must be set free. Euthanasia may seem like a terrible thing, but it goes along with the advances that man has achieved and it must be accepted.
Back in 1990 a study was held in the United States, called The Study to Understand Prognosis and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT). They hypothesized that " improved communication between the patient, physician and their families would lead to improved situations and more nourishing and earnest decision making for end-of-life patients, less pain and discomfort and a decreased need for the intensive care units and hospital resources (........)" . The results showed that most individual died in the ICU without consideration paid to the victim’s choice of their care options and often in severe pain. Since this study was undertaken organizations have been developed in more than half of the states to increase the attention paid to end-of-life issues, better care is being taken towards pain management and further ways to overcome the strong financial barriers.
Legislatures have recently turned their attention towards the important issues of end-of-life care. Doctors and families are beginning to make strong efforts to understand the pain and suffering that patients experience throughout the course of their illnesses along with their time of death. Preparation towards physician’s ability to respond to the needs of patients and their families is being taken. Any aid that is given to suffering patients will decrease distress and help improve the length and quality of their life. It is important that doctors are not only experienced in saving lives but are also prepared to provide sufficient medical resources to alleviate the pain when death cannot be avoided.
1998 the Supreme Courts nine justices rejected claims previously made on physician-assisted suicide. They denied " that assistance by physicians in suicide is a constitutionally protected right of terminally ill person’s and their physicians (America, 16 )". This statement and ruling affects those who advocate physician-assisted suicide to those at the end of their lives. Both sides need to take into perspective the need for enhanced access to palliative medicine and hospice care in order to more thoroughly meet the needs of the terminally ill. The chief justice believes that physicians assisting their patients in death is both legally and morally different from the treatments of medical practice. What is different? The initial service that doctors are supposed to provide is improved quality of life for their patient. When they can no longer do this the patient deserves the right to decide what steps they want to take in order to alleviate their pain.
Another source of public confusion has to do with pain control. Many people have a horror of being kept alive in a state of intolerable pain. Many people support the legalization of euthanasia for this reason alone. Yet health professionals tell us that only in very rare circumstances should it be necessary for a dying patient to suffer uncontrollable pain.
When it comes down to giving physicians the power and access to drugs that are used to numb the patient both physically and mentally many obstacles and doubts arise. Are the doctors working on a completely professional level, or are they taking in personal opinions and feelings of success due to the requests of the ill? They have many paths that they can take towards the care of the terminally ill. " Doctors may administer drugs to relieve not just physical pain but the mental distress associated with the final stages of a severe degenerative disease, even if it shortens the patients life ( British Med. J., 956)".
Much of the informed opposition to legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide flows from a practical concern about the abuses that will almost surely arise, and about the real difficulty of distinguishing compassionate mercy killing from murder.
Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual punishment
In part this is because our culture emphasizes choice and self-determination. All of us face the inevitability of death, and all of us fear the debilitation and dependency of crippling disease.