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Euthanasia Essay

A thesis statement for those who support the concept of euthanasia could be: Euthanasia, also mercy killing, is the practice of ending a life so as to release an individual from an incurable disease or intolerable suffering. Euthanasia is a merciful means to an end of long-term suffering. Euthanasia is a relatively new dilemma for the United States and has gained a bad reputation from negative media hype surrounding assisted suicides.

Euthanasia has a purpose and should be evaluated as humanely filling a void created by our sometimes inhumane modern society. In our society, suicide is always traumatic for families and friends. If there is no alternative to relieve the suffering of terminal patients, then the more humane option to suicide is euthanasia.

To those who would oppose euthanasia might consider this as an appropriate antithesis statement: Euthanasia is nothing less than cold-blooded killing. Euthanasia cheapens life, even more so than the very divisive issue of abortion. Euthanasia is morally and ethically wrong and should be banned in the United States. Modern medicine has evolved by leaps and bounds recently and euthanasia resets these medical and technological advances back by years and reduces today’s medical doctors to administrators of death.

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Euthanasia comes from the Greek word “Thanatos” meaning death and the prefix “eu” meaning easy or good. (Russell, 1977, p. 8) To those who support euthanasia, it might be defined as follows: The term euthanasia is used generally to refer to an easy or painless death.

Voluntary euthanasia involves a request by the dying patient or that person’s legal representatives. Passive or negative euthanasia involves not doing something to prevent death, that is, allowing someone to die; active or positive euthanasia involves taking deliberate action to cause death.

Euthanasia is often mistaken or associated with assisted suicide, a distant cousin of euthanasia, in which a person wishes to commit suicide but feels unable to perform the act alone because of a physical disability or lack of knowledge about the most effective means. An individual who assists a suicide victim in accomplishing that goal may or may not be held responsible for the death, depending on local laws. There is a distinct difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide. This paper targets euthanasia; pro and cons, not assisted suicide.

The arguments in favour of euthanasia are many. Without a doubt, modern dying has become fearsome. Doctors now possess the technologies and the skills to forestall natural death almost indefinitely. All too often, the terminally ill suffer needless pain and are kept alive without real hope, as families hold a harrowing deathwatch.

In ancient Greece and Rome, it was permissible in some situations to help others die. For example, the Greek writer Plutarch mentioned that in Sparta, infanticide was practiced on children who lacked “health and vigor”. Both Socrates and Plato sanctioned forms of euthanasia in certain cases. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly was an approved custom in several ancient societies.

Euthanasia has been accepted both legally and morally in various forms in many societies. ?There is no more profoundly personal decision, nor one which is closer to the heart of personal liberty, than the choice which a terminally ill person makes to end his or her suffering? U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein wrote. (Rothstein, 1994, p. 615).

Organizations supporting the legalization of voluntary euthanasia were established in Great Briton in 1935 and in the United States in 1938. They have gained some public support, but so far they have been unable to achieve their goal in either nation. In the last few decades, Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been eased.

The pro-euthanasia, or “right to die”, movement has received considerable encouragement by the passage of laws in 40 states by 1990, which allow legally competent individuals to make “living wills.” These wills empower and instruct doctors to withhold life-support systems if the individuals become terminally ill.

Euthanasia continues to occur in all societies, including those in which it is held to be immoral and illegal. A medically assisted end to a meaningless and worthless “void” of an existence is both accepted and condoned by the medical profession. In a Colorado survey, 60% of physicians stated that they have cared for patients for whom they believe active euthanasia would be justifiable, and 59% expressed a willingness to use lethal drugs in such cases if legal. In a study of 676 San Francisco physicians, 70% believed that patients with an incurable terminal illness should have the option of active euthanasia, and 45% would carry out such a request, if legal (35% were opposed). Nearly 90% of physicians in another study agreed that sometimes it is appropriate to give pain medication to relieve suffering, even if it may hasten a patient’s death.

On the other hand there are some who could make an argument against euthanasia. With the rise of organized religion, euthanasia became morally and ethically abhorrent. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all hold human life sacred and condemn euthanasia in any form. The American Medical Association continues to condemn assisted suicide.

Western laws have generally considered the act of helping someone to die a form of homicide subject to legal sanctions. Even a passive withholding of help to prevent death has frequently been severely punished. The Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association recommends that the American Medical Association reject euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide as being incompatible with the nature and purposes of the healing arts. (T1994, p. 81-90)

?When does the right to die become an obligation to die?? asks the Rev. Richard McCormick, professor of Christian ethics at Notre Dame University who spoke recently against assisted suicide at Fort Lauderdale’s Holy Cross Hospital. ?Imagine an 85-year-old grandmother? with the option of ordering a suicide dose from a doctor: “Do they want me to ask for it now” Physician-assisted suicide saves money?.. This is a flight from the challenge of social compassion.? (Rothstein, 1994, p. 22)

The recovery from an illness requires that we fight it. If we know that there is an easy way out, such as euthanasia, then the human consciousness instinctively tries to take that way out. Other problematic situations with euthanasia are that a person with a non-terminal disease may blindly choose euthanasia without a settled desire to die. (Heifetz & Mangel, 1975, p. 21) It is also likely that a person who chooses euthanasia may change his or her mind at the last moment and then it is obviously too late. (Heifetz & Mangel, p. 21

The issue of euthanasia is not a recent one. The Oath of Hippocrates is said to have originated in approximately the fifth century B.C. and, even then, it incorporated a specific pledge against physician-assisted suicide when it said, ?I will give no deadly medicine to anyone, even if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to that effect.? (Levine, 1991, p. 104) However, many pro-euthanasians say that the oath means that they should not give anybody a deadly drug to kill an enemy with, nor should they tell the person what to use to kill. A quote from Carol Levine says, ?on the other hand, if the goal of medicine is not simply to prolong life but to reduce pain, then questions arise about the oath? (Levine, p. 105)

What of the innocent bystanders? The family, friends, or even foes of someone that elects to exercise their “right to die”? It is suggested that a person suffering from an incurable or terminal illness is not in complete command of their mental faculties and thereby incapable of such an extraordinary decision. Surely a degraded mental capacity rules out realistic thinking with regard to survivors. How many “innocent bystanders” also pay the price of euthanasia?

Euthanasia occurs in all societies, including those in which it is held to be immoral and illegal. Euthanasia occurs under the guise of secrecy in societies that secrecy is mandatory. The first priority for the care of patients facing severe pain as a result of a terminal illness or chronic condition should be the relief of their pain. Relieving the patient’s psychosocial and other suffering is as important as relieving the patient’s pain.

Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been eased, although serious moral and legal questions still exist. Some opponents of euthanasia have feared that the increasing success that doctors have had in transplanting human organs might lead to abuse of the practice of euthanasia. It is now generally understood, however, that physicians will not violate the rights of the dying donor in order to help preserve the life of the organ recipient. Even though polls indicate most Americans support the rights of sick people to end their pain through self-inflicted death, euthanasia is one of the more contentious aspects of the death with dignity movement.

Today, patients are entitled to opt for passive euthanasia; that is, to make free and informed choices to refuse life support. The controversy over active euthanasia, however, is likely to remain intense because of opposition from religious groups and many members of the medical profession. The medical profession has generally been caught in the middle of the social controversies that rage over euthanasia. Government and religious groups, as well as the medical profession itself, agree that doctors are not required to use “extraordinary means” to prolong the life of the terminally ill.

In the Netherlands, euthanasia can be legally administered under four conditions: a) if the patient is suffering intolerably and there is no hope of recovery, b) if the patient is capable of deciding whether to choose euthanasia or not, c) if the patient repeatedly asks for euthanasia over a repeated period of time, and d) if another doctor that has not treated or previously examined the patient agree that euthanasia should be enforced. (Levine, 1991, p. 110) Does Robert George have his opinion on the Эright to dieЭ He says that 1) people own themselves, 2) owners can dispose of their property as they see fit, 3) people are therefore entitled to kill themselves and even to engage the help of others in doing so. (George & Porth, 1995, p. 50)

Some say that doctor-aided death is widespread already, only covertly, and the Netherlands is a model of how to establish the right to die by bringing the practice in the open, where medical and legal systems can oversee it. (O’Keefe, 1995, p. A1) The issue is compared to how abortion was because it was being done anyway. People had access to abortion, it was just being done terribly. We”re in exactly the same situation today. People do have access to assisted suicide, it’s just being done so badly. (Shavelson, 1994, p. 39)

Having choices, including having the legal right to help to die is what’s important in preserving the basic democratic fabric of the United States of America. The issue of euthanasia is, by its very nature, a very difficult and private choice. Euthanasia should remain exactly that; a choice; a choice that ought not to be legislated or restricted by opposing forces or opinions.


George, R. G. & Porth, W. P. (1995). A Duty to Live?. National Review, 26, 50.

Heifetz, M. H. & Mangel, C. M. (1975). The Right to Die. Toronto: Longman Canada Limited.

Levine, C. L. (1991). Is Physician Assisted Suicide Ethical?. New York: The Duskin Publishing Group.

O’Keefe, M. O. (1995). Doctor Assisted Suicide: Dutch Death. The Oregonian, 1, A1.

Rothstein, B. R. (1994). Assisted Suicide: Helping Terminally Ill. Knight-Ridder Newspapers, 12(10), 615.

Russell, R. R. (1977). Freedom to Die. New York: Human Sciences Press.

Shavelson, L. S. (1994). A Chosen Death; The Dying Confront Assisted Suicide. New York: The Duskin Publishing Group.

Trustees (1994). Report of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association. Issues in Law and Medicine, 10, 81-90.

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