Salmon still struggle to swim upstream to spawn, even though it would be much less trouble to stay in the ocean. A fox will still gnaw off its own paw to escape a hunter’s trap, even though it would be much easier to lay down and die. The very nature of life around us tells us that death is an enemy to be avoided at all costs. So what has led our "enlightened" society to dictate that certain lives are no longer worth living?
Euthanasia is a controversial topic for legislatures around the world. Legal and normalized in some countries while totally banned in others, it remains one of the key ethical debates at the juncture of medicine, politics and philosophy. Also known as assisted suicide, euthanasia involves “administering a lethal dosage of a certain medication, or ending all life support means, and letting a person who is terminally ill pass away at their own will,” according to the blog Flow Psychology.
In 1906, the first euthanasia bill was drafted in Ohio. Although unsuccessful, the bill marked the inception of a debate over euthanasia that has continued to today. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS): Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Montana and California allow PAS as an option by court decision.
Proponents of euthanasia and PAS argue that terminally ill people should have the right to end their suffering with a quick, dignified and compassionate death. They argue that the right to die is protected by the same constitutional safeguards that guarantee such rights as marriage and procreation. These people see allowing patients to end their suffering as not only morally justified but also essential to upholding the right to personal and bodily autonomy.
This argument also suggests that euthanasia enables a person to die with dignity, granting the opportunity for a peaceful, merciful death for a terminally ill, mentally competent adult. Inadequate funding for palliative care and pain management as well as governments’ reliance on nursing homes all contribute to the despair felt by many who reach old age, endure frustrating physical limitations or struggle with debilitating medical conditions.
However, provision of adequate pain management and hospice (palliative) care could improve quality of life and eliminate the demand for euthanasia. Advanced medical technology has made it possible to lengthen the human lifespan and enhance quality of life. Palliative care and rehabilitation centers are alternatives to help disabled or patients approaching death live a pain-free and better life.
In addition, normalizing euthanasia would be a philosophically slippery slope to legalized murder. According to Edmund Pelligrino, a professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics at Georgetown University, “in a society as obsessed with the costs of healthcare and the principle of utility, the dangers of the slippery slope are far from fantasy.” He also adds that: “If terminating life is a benefit, the reasoning goes, why should euthanasia be limited only to those who can give consent? Why need we ask for consent?”
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2002. In 2003, 1,626 cases were officially reported. The Dutch euthanasia law gives doctors immunity from prosecution if they help to kill patients over the age of 12 who are suffering unbearably from incurable conditions and who have repeatedly requested euthanasia. However, Dr. Els Borst, the former Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who guided the euthanasia law through the Dutch Parliament, recently admitted that medical care for the terminally ill had declined since the law came into effect, according to Bioethics, Medicine and the Criminal Law- Vol:1. This aspect of euthanasia itself devalues human life. In the long run, euthanasia can become nothing more than a means of health care cost containment.
The main aim of medical practitioners should be improving and enhancing the care of the patient, not killing them. Under the Hippocratic Oath (the medical code of conduct), medical practitioners cannot engage in euthanasia, although some have done so. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, alias Dr. Death, is an American pathologist who actively supports voluntary euthanasia. He designed a so-called death machine (thanatron) that was used by several patients to commit suicide. Over his career, he helped more than 130 terminally ill people end their own lives. In 1994, he faced murder charges for the death of Thomas Hyde, who suffered from a terminal nerve illness. Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder. Experts believe Dr. Kevorkian was obsessed with mercy killings and gradually lost the human touch. Instead of promoting health as a doctor, Dr. Kevorkian promoted death.
Before advances in medical science and technology, diseases like leprosy and syphilis were seen as incurable, and relatives often performed mercy killings to end the suffering of the patients. Today, doctors are struggling with terminal cancer and sometimes suggest euthanasia as an answer. Future advancements in medical science may bring viable solutions to many incurable diseases, and euthanasia will be considered an outdated, inhuman and unprofessional form of practice. We must see each person who opts for the needle as a personal defeat.