Euthanasia Over the years, the practice of physician assisted suicide, affectionately know as euthanasia, has evolved into one of the biggest social issues in the United States and the World. There have been many controversies over whether or not euthanasia is justified. In some places in the United States, euthanasia is considered murder (Jussim 47). It is then treated as a murder case and murder penalties are used. There has been a whole change in euthanasia over the centuries, but it still serves the same purpose. Euthanasia or assisted suicide in Greek means “easy death”.
When broken down, it means the process of one being euthanized, which means to kill without pain. The process of euthanasia has actually been practiced for thousands of years, rooting all the way back to the ancient Egyptians. They practiced euthanasia in all sorts of ways. A good example of this is when somebody was suffering from a terminal disease or a gaping, festering wound, or even when an appendage or limb was severed off they would put the victim to sleep using a natural poison called ether. Using a rod, they pulled the victims brain out through the nose, killing the victim (Jussim 53).
Euthanasia was then brought up again in the medieval times. When the person was ill with any type of disease that could not be treated, or what is called a terminal illness, a poison was put in the cup of the victim. The victim would then administer the drug himself, clearing the person who put the poison in the drink of any wrongdoing. This poison would put the person to sleep, into a coma. Then, about ten minutes later, a person with a cover over his head so he could remain anonymous, came in and stabbed the victim through the heart.
The victim supposedly felt no pain (Jussim 61). In the United States today when somebody wants to use euthanasia as a form of dying, a physician is called in to administer the drug. Physician aid-in-dying is assistance by a qualified medical practitioner in implementing a patient’s considered wish to end his or her own life, usually by means of lethal injection. In the Netherlands, the practice is an injection to render the patient comatose, followed by a second injection called potassium phosphate. In cases where the patient takes the lethal drug, currently 10g of pentobarbitone, the doctor is present in 20% of the cases. However where death does not occur within 12 hours, the doctor is on hand to administer a second drug to accelerate death, rather than allowing the patient the indignity of lying in a coma for up to four days, waiting for death to occur (McCuen 81).
Objections that the legalization of the practice would be open to abuse are not sustained by close examination of data. Patients are already “eased into death” with morphine under the euphemistic doctrine of “double effect”. Published figures suggest that ethical criteria in the Netherlands are similar to those already practiced in the United States. Legal safeguards for the various situations have been thoroughly prepared by legal researchers in draft legislation. Trends show that the practice will continue whether or not it is regulated by the legislation (McCuen 118). Although the possibility of physician-assisted suicide is welcome news to many people who may be facing the prospect of an agonizing, humiliating and long drawn out disease while still having some physical capabilities, it is of little reassurance to someone who is suffering from a wasting disease.
The disease will eventually omit the patients’ ability to commit suicide. Also, death by oral ingestion of drugs is far less effective than by skillful injection. A doctor on hand can make necessary adjustments of dosage for the patients’ weight, condition, age, and history. This, in essence, is the Dutch argument, and although drugs are often been made available for the patient to take orally by his or her own hand, if and when desired and after due consultation, a physician is generally present to offer the technical support that a patient has the right to expect (McCuen 112). When a person is terminally ill, his family might suggest the possibility of euthanasia, when in fact, the person that is ill can only request it. When a patient requests euthanasia, the first step is to try to improve palliative care in hopes that euthanasia might be avoided.
The term “palliative care” means surgery to improve the condition of a disease. If this does not lessen the emotional or physical discomfort of the patient or his family, doctors then discuss the option of euthanasia, each having an equal say in the decision making process. Any member of the decision making team has the right to refuse cooperation in the case of euthanasia, but this refusal cannot stop euthanasia from taking place. The family may offer spiritual input, but is not involved in the final decision, nor can a family member request euthanasia for an ill family member. ONLY A PATIENT CAN REQUEST EUTHANASIA.
This protects the patient in two ways: the family cannot force euthanasia upon the patient and the family cannot prevent euthanasia if the patient insists on it (McCuen 127-128) In the United States today, euthanasia continues to raise many legal problems, such as in cases in which parents and doctors decide not to pursue drastic life-saving measures for children born with severe birth defects. An enduring ethical question is also raised by the Hippocratic oath, which requires physicians both to relieve suffering and to prolong life. The problem is intensified because the definition of death has become blurred. Formerly, a person was considered dead when breathing and heart action ceased. Since these functions can be maintained artificially now, a definition of death that includes brain death-lack of electrical activity for a period long enough to make return to functioning virtually impossible-is widely accepted (Baird 37) Euthanasia, even though used as a beneficial process for leaving the world, has its downsides. In the United States, euthanasia is a serious crime, punishable by life imprisonment.
Some doctors are helping terminally ill patients commit suicide-a so-called physician-assisted suicide-without being punished. One of these doctors is a man by the name of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Jack Kevorkian, affectionately known as “Dr. Death” was born in Pontiac, Michigan on May 26, 1928.
He has gained notoriety in the early 1990s for his crusade to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1952 with a specialty in pathology but never settled into a steady practice, instead spending his working years moving among hospitals in Michigan and southern California. During these years he developed his ideas on assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and built a so-called “suicide machine”, by which patients could administer carbon monoxide to themselves. Kevorkian became widely know in 1990 when a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease used his machine to end her life. The machine that she used was a different one than the earlier one that Kevorkian concocted. This machine had two tubes-one containing a harmless saline solution and one containing the deadly poison potassium phenophaline, that were connected intravenously to the patient.
When the patient was ready to die, he would press a button in his hand, stopping the saline solution. The potassium phenophaline would then run into the patient, rendering him comatose. About five minutes later, the patient’s heart goes into arrest, as a result of the poison. Ever since this woman’s death, he has assisted more than 20 people with debilitating chronic illness or terminal diseases to end their lives (AOL 97). After several unsuccessful attempts to charge Kevorkian with murder, Michigan in 1993 passed a temporary ban on assisted-suicide. Kevorkian was convicted under the law, but it was overturned. Both the law and Kevorkian’s legal situation remained unresolved. Kevorkian’s activities have frustrated the medical profession as well, which is divided over the issue of euthanasia.
Even those who are sympathetic towards Kevorkian’s avowed intent of allowing suffering patients to die are deeply troubled by his relatively short evaluation and counseling methods and criticize his oversimplification of the issues (AOL 96). There are only a few places in the world where physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely accepted. Only in some countries in Europe is euthanasia legal. These countries include the Netherlands, Poland, and Finland. In these countries, euthanasia accounts for more than 5% of the deaths (Jussim 78).