Euthanasia Euthanasia, is one of the most controversial issues of our time. This diver se issue raises many questions such as: how should decisions be made, and by whom? What should be determined as a matter of law and what left a matter of discretion and judgment? Should those who want to die, or who are in a “persistent vegetative state” be allowed to die voluntarily? Who should decide: the patient, the physician, the courts, or the families? The pro-euthanasia arguments turn on the individual case of the patient in pain, suffering at the center of an intolerable existence. When life becomes nbearable, quick death can be the answer. If living persons become so ill that they cannot tolerate the pain they have a “right to die” to an escape from torment. So long as the right to die means not prolonging the life by undesireable treatment, it may be classified as rational suicide.
The term “euthanasia” means “good health” or “well dying”; it is derived from the Greek “eu” and “thanatos”. In its classical sense, it is a descriptive term referring to an easy death as opposed to an agonizing or tormented dying. In Greek literature, euthanasia connoted a “happy death, an ideal and coveted end to a full and pleasant life.” The concern to die well is as old as humanity itself, for the questions surrounding death belong to the essence of being human. All people die, but apparently only people know they are to die. They live with the truth that life is under the sentence of death.
Thus, from the “beginning of the species concern with how one dies has been an implicit part of the human attempt to come to terms with death.” (Paul D. Simmons, 112) There is still a question involved in the contemporary debates about euthanasia which is posed by a case such as the terminally ill who are dying. The issue concerns the morality of mercy in aiding the dying patient. The question goes beyond simply withdrawing treatments. The issue is whether, in the name of mercy, one might morally aid someone’s dying? “Are circumstances under which it is morally responsible to terminate a person, or does lovealways require resisting death through every means possible?” (Wickett, 109) Paul D. Simmons declares bluntly that “it is harder morally to justify letting somebody die a slow and ugly death, dehumanized, than it is to justify helping him to escape from such misery. (Samuel Gorovitz, 113) Some very prominent people are making packs with friends or relatives that specify that either will help the other die when life becomes desperate from pain or tragic accident.
Families and physicians feel a variety of powerful emotions when dealing with a patient dying a slow and agonizing death. Certainly they wish that the pain were relieved and that health restored; that the patient not die but go on living and sharing concerns and joys together. “When the illness is terminal and there is no hope of relief or recovery, however, death is often desired for the patient as God’s appointed way to relieve suffering.” (Paul D. Simmons, 116) Mr. Sorestad, my junior high teacher, shared his experience at the death of his beloved wife after her prolonged battle with breast cancer. She had deteriorated physically and mentally practically beyond recognition. “I prayed for death,” he had said, “because I loved her so much and could not bear to see her suffer so.
And when death finally came, I thanked God for his good gift.” She’d had enough, made her choice, and her choice was honored. But suppose that Mrs. Sorestad had asked her husband to help her die! He felt already that death was imminent and desirable. As a true Christian, he felt that death would be a merciful relief of pain and suffering. He was morally justified to act out his love for his wife by ending her suffering life in a painless manner. “The meaning of death, the morality of taking or ending life of one’s own spouse or the “relationship of the person to the processes of nature and the activity of God in one’s life.” (Ann Wickett, 109) This issue raised concerns to doctors.
Even the best doctors, given all the pressures that they must bear, could “benefit from more structured ways of remaining informed about how their efforts are viewed by their patients.” (Samuel Gorovitz, 10) Importantly, it also heightened my curiosity about what it is like to be a physician c about what sorts of problems and pressures sustain their distance and separateness, and make it so hard for them to be open to new ideas from outside their profession. Most doctors found themselves spending more time than ever before dealing with decisions they were never trained to make decisions at the edge of life. Where the question “is what can be done for the patient.” (Thomas W. Case, 25 & 26). He is uncomfortable when the issue turns from how to sustain a patient’s life to such questions as whether to stop providing nourishment, thereby, to end a patient’s life. It is strongly believed that physicians can play a positive role in the active euthanasia of mentally competent, terminally ill people who request assistance in ending their own lives.
It is crucial that physicians who choose to help dying patients in this way should be “free to do so without the fear of criminal prosecution”. (Ann Wickett, 87). There are those who will say that active euthanasia is not part of the physician’s role and never has been. Historical evidence, however, indicates that it was “common practice for Grecian and Roman physicians to assist in suicide”. (Thomas W. Case, 50). Physicians are not alone in having a high rate of stress impairment; other high stress occupations also have such problems.
The choices and challenges faced by today’s doctors, and the “reality of their complex relationships with patients, peers, and social situations have left the hippocratic oath behind.” (Paul D. Simmons, 108). Doctors are no doubt eager toexplain about the stresses they must bear in the face of difficult decisions. They have their responsibilities, but should they support the patient’s position, or should they stay out of it? Should they side with the family? These are very hard questions for them to face. They could avoid those decisions if they could, but there are too many pressures to allow them that comfortable escape.
They come from many directions. “The most compelling pressure is the concern for the interests of patients; they realize that some patients may be harmed rather than helped by life sustaining treatment.” (Paul D. Simmons, 201). Some cases have yielded mixed results in state courts, and the Supreme Court, that restricts the rights of family members to direct the withdrawal of such treatment in the absence of written evidence of the patient’s wishes that is clear and compelling. There is a legitimate public interest in preventing such outcomes no matter what the patient would have wanted. The decision to forgo lifesustaining treatment must surely be as hard as any that arises in a hospital or within a family. Principles to guide such a decision are elusive, because whenever the question arises, some of our most cherished values are in conflict.
People believe in the value of life but it is not clear that all life has value no matter what. People believe that suffering should be reduced, but sometimes that means shortening life. People also believe that patients’ wishes should be respected, but that seems not always best for the patients. It is expected of doctors to be a strong champions of life, but people fear their capacity to impose continue life. Cardinal John J. O’Connor, writhing in Catholic New York (July 20, 1989), explained why he refrained from supporting the euthanasia bill, affirming that any concern for therelief of human suffering should be tempered by a respect for what he calls the “tremendous potential of suffering”: frightening number of people are being condemned to death by the courts, at the request of loved one or “proxies,” or by their own personal requests.
The reason: They are suffering ‘needlessly’; their lives are ‘useless’; they are terminally ill, or comatose, or have nothing to live for.’ Of course, there are many things that doctors do know best, and how to prolong the life of a seriously ill patient is among them. There is also a deep and geniune commitment among physicians the occasional medical rogue aside c to serving the interests of their patients. That commitment can lead to zealousness in defense of life, a zealousness that can distort the physician’s judgment about just what is in the patient’s interest. And, increasingly, there is the fear of legal jeopardy. It is the physicians’ role to educate the patient by discussing both the state well being and the indicated treatments.
The risks and benefits of each treatment option must be thoroughly discussed. It is the patient’s role to evaluate this information in light of his or her present level of physical and social, spiritual, and psychololgical needs. It is hard to say that the family has the right to demand that the doctor pull the plug just because they thought the patient “would never want to live like this”. Despite their confused state, the family urges the physician to withhold the tube, thereby hastening death. The issue, quality of life, is perceived by the family: No one has the right to judge that another’s life is not worth living. The basic right to life should not be abridged because someone decides that someone else’s ‘quality of life’ is too low.
Once we base the right to life on ‘quality of life’ standards, there is no logical place to draw the line. Dying is not something any of us really look forward to, but it is a natural process that we can use to come to terms with ourselves. It is indeed our last chance to become our best selves. Few of us like pain and suffering, and only those of us who are “profoundly religious can find meaning in them”. (Thomas W. Case, 28-29).
We ameliorate human suffering when cure is not possible, and we provide structure for people in times of chaos. We need not view this inevitable part of the lifecycle as evil. WORKS CITED Case, Thomas W. “National Review,” Dying Made Easy. New York: Neal Bernards, Inc. November 4, 1991, pp.
25c26. Gorovitz, Samuel. Drawing the Line: Life, Death, and Ethical Choices in an American Hospital New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Simmons, Paul D. Birth an d Death: Bioethical Decision Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983. Tong, Rosemarie.
“Current,”Euthanasia in the 1990’s: Dying “Good Death. New York: Harper Collins Publishing, March 1993, pp. 27c33. Wickett, Ann. The Right To Die: Understanding Euthanasia. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1986.