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Euthanasia: the Right to Choose

In: Social Issues

Submitted By katelloyd11
Words 2108
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The word euthanasia is a combination of the Greek prefix Eu, which means “good,” and “thanatos,” meaning “death. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the act or practice of killing individuals that are hopelessly sick or injured for reasons of mercy. Euthanasia or “mercy killing” as they more commonly call it is a highly debated topic that has many aspects. Financial, moral, social, and most important, legal concerns are raised whenever euthanasia is brought up. The controversy surrounding euthanasia can only be resolved when the procedure is legalized with mandatory, regulatory guidelines put in place to enable both physicians and individuals to decide the best course of action for themselves without fear. An individual’s view of euthanasia is influenced by religious and personal beliefs, current law, and medical assistance.
The moral debate involves religion and other societal beliefs. Everyone has their own morals and values, which is their God-given, constitutional right. In America, our society’s morals are based in part on religious beliefs. Most religions, especially Christian religions, feel that taking life is wrong and against God’s commandments. The Catholic Church feels strongly about euthanasia and encourages both the Catholic congregation and United States politicians to maintain the illegal status of euthanasia (Christian Medical Fellowship).
Various religions impose their beliefs and morals on the individual causing more confusion. In Euthanasia: The Battle for Life, Dr. Raymond Bohlin discusses what the Bible says about life, suffering, and death, quoting scripture that reflects Christian beliefs that God has created man, numbered his days, and that taking a life breaks God’s commandments. He goes on to imply that the issue can be resolved by praying, speaking out, and reaching out to the sick and the elderly. In support of Bohlin’s point of view, Chicago Cardinal Bernadin, shortly before his death, said, “I am at the end of my earth life…life is not worth living” (Peres, New Section). As one who is dying, I have especially come to appreciate the gift of life. For the court to accept assisted suicide would send a false signal that a less-than-perfect life is not worth living (Peres, News Section).” This stance is surprising different from those of practicing Jews. Different surveys on Jews willing to participate in physician-assisted suicide indicate that with a ratio of almost 3:1, Jewish respondents would participate in the procedure although it appears that the response is against Jewish teaching. However, it may not be against the teachings because the prime teachings are that each person is an individual and that “loving kindnesses should be extended to each person” (Newfield, np.). The two illustrated religious thoughts reflect our society’s confusion over the issue of euthanasia: the people who want to legalize physician-assisted suicide because they believe that it is an individual’s choice to decide to die with dignity and the people who believe euthanasia should remain illegal because it is wrong to kill. Religion has changed the established standards of beliefs in the past to encompass the beliefs of the people. They can do it again.
Societal opinion over euthanasia is highly debated, maybe one day all the issues can be resolved and the bickering over mercy-killing will end. Of course, on the pessimistic side, the right to die debate might never be concluded. Choice in Dying reminds us that “Although the concept of the right to die has interested philosophers since the time of the Greeks, it was not until recently that the issue became a pertinent and widespread social concern.” A cancer patient named Robert Dent wrote the following in a letter before he died of an injection that he requested (Australian Man First in World, A5). “If I were to keep a pet animal in the same condition I am in, I would be prosecuted. If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia, then don’t use it, but don’t deny me the right to use it.” He requested euthanasia and received it; he was the first Man to be granted the choice to die. Whatever it may mean in other settings, in the context of euthanasia, the right to die refers to the claimed right of a person to be killed on request and the right of another to kill when asked. Neither of these claimed rights are to be found anywhere in ethics or law, and they are usually asserted, not argued. Genuine natural rights place an obligation on others to respond to them, but the advocates of euthanasia always point out that a request to be killed will not be binding on anyone. There is no reason to suppose that these claimed rights are genuine, and hence they do not deserve respect.
The main issues of euthanasia are maintaining the status of illegality, legalizing the procedure, and regulating the procedure. The controversy of euthanasia involves moral, ethical, and legal concerns. “In this country, according to a survey reported in the Journal of American Medical Association, nearly 63 percent of Americans favor legalizing physician-assisted suicide, yet most state statutes criminalize it” (Stark, np). People fear that if legalized, the choice to die will eventually be taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of people who will choose to kill select people based on their own personal criteria. Maybe this is true, but it is doubtful. The issues are more realistic and involve our society’s morals as well as the legal consequences involved in choosing death.
The legal debate is a hot issue with both proponents and opponents striving to win. In the United States, the Supreme Court decided to allow individual states to decide what to do about physician-assisted suicide. Currently, only Oregon, Washington and Montana allow physician-assisted suicide (wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_in_the_United_States). Several other states are debating over the subject but without success. The main legal argument is whether or not a citizen of the United States has the constitutional right to choose between life and death. As it stands now, the Supreme Court ruled we do not have the constitutional right to choose (www.near-death.com)
According to Choice in Dying’s Legal Developments web page, the following three legal rulings have recently been issued. In 1996, the Ninth Circuit Court in Compassion in Dying v. Washington and the Second Circuit Court in Quill v. Vacco, ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects the issue of physician-assisted suicide when requested by competent, terminally ill patients. The U.S. Supreme Court in January 1997 and June 1997 reversed these decisions based on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; but, they left it up to the states to ban or legalize physician-assisted suicide. In the third predominant case, “Lee v. Oregon (U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; February 1997). The U.S. District Court had held that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (Measure 16), the first law in the nation to legally authorize physician-assisted suicide, violated the Equal Protection Clause because the safeguards were insufficient to protect the rights of terminally ill patients who may seek assistance in dying. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 vote, found that the plaintiffs had no legal standing to challenge Measure 16 because they failed to show any threat of immediate harm and that their claim rested upon a ‘chain of speculative contingencies.’ The Court did not decide the constitutional merits of physician-assisted suicide.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Physician Assisted Suicide Cases: In 1996, two Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal struck down laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The appeals on these rulings were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court January 8, 1997(Washington Post On-line articles). The court unanimously overturned both Circuit Court rulings. The two cases were WASHINGTON et al. v. GLUCKSBERG et al. 96-110 and VACCO, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW YORK, et al. v. QUILL et al. 95-1858 (Legal Information Institute Cornell Law School). The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals on June 26, 1997(Choice in Dying, Legal Developments, np)
One last issue is the financial effect on the person and their family. Surgeries, life support, drugs, doctor’s fees and all the other expenses of a terminally ill patient are staggering. For one week in an intensive care unit, the cost could easily soar to $100,000 (PubMed.gov). The cost of letting a person die is close to nothing when compared to the cost of keeping a person alive.
As medical technology, financial concerns, and the age of people increase, so will the demands for a legal decision on the euthanasia issue. Medical technology has advanced to a point that people can now be kept alive against their will. The people who support the right to die argue that medical technology has advanced so much that doctors can keep a person’s body alive, even if the brain is not functioning, why not allow a person to make a choice to die before a person reaches that state. Medical advances and technologies have made it possible to survive pneumonia, heart attacks, and kidney failure. New drugs and surgeries have made living longer possible. In addition when people are in critical condition and about to die, artificial respirators and tube feeding will keep the body alive, even when the person might want and need to die. Medical technology will continue to advance and will necessitate alternatives to current medical practices and changes to medical and societal beliefs.
Another cause of the euthanasia debate is the financial concerns for both the family and society. As reported by The Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy, most people who are against euthanasia believe “it will only be a matter of time before courts will sanction putting people to death, not because they are desperately ill and want to die, but because they are deemed to pose an unjustifiable burden on society.” P.J. King RN feels that the insurance industry in the future will offer patients the option to die instead of spending a lot of money on expensive treatments. This decision will be based solely on cost containment. Not only do we have the insurance industry interested in the money saved through euthanasia, but we also have the heirs of the terminally ill who might be interested in the money they can receive it the patient chooses to die instead of suffer (PJ King Ohio Right to Life. “Forced Euthanasia?” www.ohiolife.org). Money and age, these are powerful change agent to lend persuasion in favor of euthanasia.
There are three primary solutions which could feasible be argued both for and against euthanasia by the people and politicians most interested in the debate. To properly evaluate the solutions, certain criteria must be chosen. Personal – Is the patient terminal and suffering and if so does he choose to die? Medical – Is it ethical, accepted practice and is the patient terminal and suffering? Religious – Is it moral and have the individuals involved considered their actions concerning their beliefs? Legal – Is it a crime to assist a terminally ill patient in dying?
To have a choice in death will mean that society can be educated and grow with the needs of its people as it has always been forced to do. The individual can understand the guidelines before utilizing them in their own private choice. Choice will also mean that physicians can choose to assist or not assist, as their own beliefs allow. Euthanasia must be an allowed choice.
A better way to ease the misery and the suffering is to respect the individual’s right to choose the best course of action for their life and their death. Those who are pro-choice, as reported on Villanova’s internet page, believe “the decision how and when to die is one of the most intimate and personal choices a person can make in a lifetime, a choice central to personal dignity and autonomy.” How a person dies not only determines the nature of the final period of existence, but in many cases, the enduring memories held by those who love him. If nothing is done about the euthanasia issue, our society will continue to turn a blind eye to the issue and people will continue to seek alternatives behind closed doors. Society must become educated on the issue of euthanasia and lobby the politicians for effective and realistic changes to the law so that they can protect physicians from prosecution and individuals will finally have the right to choose death instead of misery.

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