Euthanasia is the intentional termination of life of a very sick person's life in order to relieve them of their suffering. This is usually in cases where the person has an incurable condition. There are other instances where some people want their life to be ended. In many cases, it is carried out at the person's request but there are times when they may be too ill and the decision is made by relatives, medics or, in some instances, the courts.
Euthanasia is classified in three different ways. These include voluntary, non-voluntary, or involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia is also termed as assisted suicide and refers to a situation whereby a patient brings about his or her own death with the assistance of a physician. In this case, the patient consents to his or her life being terminated. Those who believe in voluntary euthanasia argue that if an individual has a tormenting illness, he may have intolerable pain that may be a burden to his life. Terminal illness also makes one to be too dependent on others especially the close relatives and friends. It is argued that a patient who has been on a life support machine for long may have voluntary wish to die. However he may not be able to commit suicide without assistance, and therefore voluntary euthanasia may be applied if the patient had expressed such a wish.
Non-voluntary euthanasia is conducted where the consent of the patient is unavailable. This is implemented when a person is not in a position to decide or have his wishes known. It mostly occurs in cases where the person is in a coma, the individual is too young, senile, or has severe brain damage. If an individual is disturbed mentally to such an extent, then they should be assisted through non- voluntary euthanasia (Kaveny & Murphy, 1997).
Involuntary euthanasia is conducted against the willpower of the sick person. In this case a patient's life is ended without the patient's knowledge and consent. Often, the patient may be unconscious or extremely sick to depict what is going on. Voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia can further be categorized into passive or active variants. Passive euthanasia may involve the withdrawal of basic treatments such as the administration of antibiotics that are necessary for life continuity. For active euthanasia, poisonous substances that are lethal may be used to terminate individual’s life and hence making this the most controversial means.
There are arguments about whether euthanasia is a moral issue or not. These arguments are brought out in the arguments against euthanasia which puts through the
issues that life is sacred, the act devalues life, it is against the will of God, the act is against the best interests of the person, it can be abused due to pressure from other interested parties, improved palliative care can be a solution to the suffering of the patient, if unregulated doctors may use it as a loophole not to be committed in their noble duty to care for patients.
Arguments against euthanasia have been supported by current practical arguments which states that:
- Proper application of painkilling measures may render euthanasia useless.
- There's no way of properly regulating euthanasia
- Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill
- Allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives
- Euthanasia may become a cost-effective way to treat the terminally ill
- Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
- Euthanasia undermines the motivation to provide good care for the dying, and good pain relief
- Euthanasia gives too much power to doctors
- Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives
- Moral pressure on elderly relatives by selfish families
- Moral pressure to free up medical resources
Patients who are abandoned by their families may feel euthanasia is the only solution (Kaveny & Murphy, 1997).
There are also ethical arguments about euthanasia. some of the ethical arguments states that euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life, accepting euthanasia accepts that some lives (those of the disabled or sick) are worth less than others, voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought as undesirable, euthanasia might not be in a person's best interests, euthanasia affects other people's rights, not just those of the patient (Moreno, 1995).
On the contrary arguments for and against euthanasia seem to be superseded by the principle of double effect. The principle of double effect; also commonly referred to as double-effect reasoning, involves ethical criteria for analyzing the permissibility of acting on behalf of the patient. For instance, terminating a patient’s pain will lead to an effect of death, which should be avoided under normal circumstances.
However, for this principle to hold there are certain things which must be in place. The criteria mention that an action may be justifiable when the harmful effects cannot be separated from good effects. The nature of the act should however meet the basic moral ethics and harm should be minimized. In the society today euthanasia is also met with negative reception in the religious perspective of life. Religious people don't argue that we can't kill ourselves, or get others to do it. They know that we can do it because God has given us free will. Their argument is that it would be wrong for us to do so. They believe that every human being is the creation of God, and that this imposes certain limits on us. Our lives are not only our lives for us to do with as we see fit. To kill ourselves, or to get someone else to do it for us, is to deny God, and to deny God's rights over our lives and his right to choose the length of our lives and the way our lives end. Religious people in the society may at times discredit euthanasia due to the belief that human beings are bound to suffer, as it brings them closer to God.
Other arguments against euthanasia state that we need to demystify the myths and stigma associated with terminal illness by helping the patient and their relatives to cope and face the inevitable challenges (Panzer, 2000). This will help in adjusting to the sad scenario that is experienced upon the diagnosis of a terminal illness. It is important to encourage the patient to remain hopeful of the eventual healing. Talking to loved ones about ones illness will help interact freely with those who care about you. It is important to learn about the physical effects of the illness and control the symptoms in order to reduce pain, with loss of appetite and fatigue.
In the American society today euthanasia has been met with morals, values and religious undertones. As a national Policy euthanasia is not supported in America. America as a nation stands firmly on the line of morality and societal values. However, there some states in America which have legalized euthanasia. The argument for making euthanasia legal is that the individual's freedom entails liberty or choice in all matters as long as the rights of any other person are not infringed upon. In the contrary, the argument that does not support the legalizing of euthanasia is that it negates the value of human life. It therefore follows that euthanasia may be abused by people who have wrong criminal intentions.
A financial motive is sometimes advanced in favor of euthanasia (Keelan, 2006). It is quite expensive to maintain terminally ill persons and this may amount to wastage of resources when such patients succumb to their suffering in the long run. It costs money from the family of the government to keep terminally sick people on life support which will be wasted resources if they eventually die. These arguments informed the passing legal framework in three states of America, Washington, Oregon and Montana. However, looking at the national level public opinion on euthanasia is purely informed by religious affiliations and culture.
In Christian perspective the church and especially the catholic and the Anglican Church euthanasia is not advocated for. According to the catholic catechism an act that is administered to reduce pain by causing death goes against the human dignity and it is disrespect to God. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded (Murray, 2005).
However, the Lutheran church in November 9, 1992 adopted the famous "End of life decisions'' which seem to support euthanasia as a way of relieving those with severe suffering out of terminal illness. This included several decisions just to quote but one: When medical judgment determines that artificially-administered nutrition and hydration will not contribute to an improvement in the patient's underlying condition or prevent death from that condition, patients or their legal spokespersons may consider them unduly burdensome treatment. In these circumstances it may be morally responsible to withhold or withdraw them and allow death to occur (Benoway, 1992).
The Orthodox Church firmly does not support euthanasia as it is perceived as committing murder by the people involved. This act is therefore sinful in nature (Perrett, 1996). Islam and Buddhism also respects the sanctity of life and therefore euthanasia is firmly prohibited and is seen as a violation of God's work and interfering with human kind.
Euthanasia has since time immemorial attracted serious legal battles. In Montana in the United States of America a lawsuit was brought against the local government to allow euthanasia. This land mark judgment gave way for competent terminally ill patients to make decisions about when to take their lives. On December 5, 2008, state District Court judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in favor of a terminally ill Billings resident who had filed a lawsuit with the assistance of Compassion & Choices, a patient rights group. The ruling illustrates that competent, terminally ill patients have the right to self-administer fatal doses of medication to as prescribed by a physician (Kaveny & Murphy, 1997). Physicians who prescribe such medications have not broken any legal law to prompt their punishment.
Euthanasia is an act which continues to elicit reactions from the world over and this comes from mainly religious affiliation and culture. On one hand this research has found out that ethical arguments which points out that if supported it can lead to undesirable execution of people, it can also erode the professionalism of medical personnel who should be committed to offering care to patients. On the other hand this research points out that even practical arguments against euthanasia clearly shows that proper measure for pain reduction makes euthanasia unnecessary. Since there are no proper measures for the regulation of euthanasia, it is almost impossible to justify the reason of applying it regardless of the situation.