Should Physician Assisted Suicide Be Legalized?

The subject of euthanasia has always been controversial, producing extreme reactions and emotions from each opposing camp. Throughout the whole history of the mankind, there were those who strongly supported the above-mentioned issue and those who fiercely opposed it. From the judicial point of view, euthanasia is frequently defined as a painless killing of a person from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma. It is quite understandable that it is here that a moral issue comes into play. Does a doctor have the right to kill a person? On the other hand, this is only the God’s mission to take human life away.  Hence, euthanasia still continues to be a debatable issue, even in the modern world.

Physician aided dying, which is often used as the synonym for euthanasia, has both pros and cons for their activity. However, it is still highly arguable whether depriving a person of his or her life may serve a subject of pride and be taken for an act of mercy. Although, this aspect is also far from being univocal. Thus, it still requires further analysis.

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To begin with, it is worth mentioning that euthanasia is a multidimensional term and has to be regarded from various viewpoints. The first type of euthanasia, which crosses a person’s mind when hearing the term, is a passive euthanasia. It is usually applied when a person has low or no chances to recover from a disease and the treatment will mean nothing but nerves and vain expenditures for their relatives or close friends. This kind of depriving a person of the life is still approvable as it solves a plenty of problems for both a patient, relieving their pain and making their suffering less extreme, and their nearest.  Moreover, in this very case, both sides are morally ready to accept the fact that person will soon pass away, no matter how gruesome this piece of news may be.

The situation becomes unbearable when the physician himself appoints euthanasia as the only way to relieve patient’s pain. Moreover, patient’s relatives are given no chance to make a decision and have to blindly submit to doctor’s recommendations.

Such a tremendous ambiguity in viewpoints on euthanasia did not come from thin air. The bases for heated debates were laid in the ancient times when medicine still wasn’t as almighty as it seems to be in the modern world. It is worth mentioning that such procedure as euthanasia was no rocket science for Roman and Greek doctors, who entirely supported its application in those cases where nothing could be done to save a person’s life. Quite different was the opinion held in the 1st century BC, when, being influenced by Christian dogmas, people were strongly against euthanasia as a way of relieving patient’s sufferings. The similar point of view was shared by Jews, the adherents of Judaism, who thought that it is God who granted people the right to live, it is only He who has the right to take it away.

The new stage of discussion started when in the 17th-18th centuries the Renaissance writers rose to challenge the common law prohibiting euthanasia. As it is widely known this period was marked by the so-called anthropocentrism, a theory where a person played the central role, which distinguished it from the previous periods. Holding the opinion that a person is a unique creature which has both spirit and flesh and who has the right to satisfy both, the writers claimed that the only a person who can decide whether to live or die is a patient himself, hence referring to euthanasia as to an inimitable human right. The pendulum showed “euthanasia is not the way to salvation” when in 1828 the American government issued the statute outlawing the physician assisted suicide.

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The attitude towards the subject under discussion  changed completely in the 19th century when a great number of philosophers, scientists, writers, etc. supposed that once a person commits a crime, they have to be charged with it. The harsher is the crime, the more extreme the punishment should be. As the result, in the late 19th century, the era of morphine, euthanasia got a second wind. It was applied not only in medicine, but also in jurisdiction in those cases when a person was sentenced to death. Basically, it is worth being mentioned that the United States of America was and still is one of the leading countries that use euthanasia to deprive convicts of their lives. This is one more time proved by the fact that in 1906 the governing bodies of Ohio, one of the 50 states of the modern USA, issued the bill supporting euthanasia.

The baton was picked up by the United Kingdom. In 1935, the House of Commons adopted the law which legalized euthanasia. Later, in 1938 in the USA, there the claims about the strong necessity to find the fastest and, at the same time, the most humane way of killing its numerous prisoners appeared, and thus freeing jails for those who were likely to become its new convicts, a special body, the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia (NSLE), was established. It took euthanasia about 42 years from then on to be regarded from the medical view. In 1972, the US Senate held the earliest national hearing on assisted dying.

The main prerequisite for the legal acceptance of euthanasia as a means of terminating the patient’s death was the fact that no sooner than in 1973 the American Hospital Association accepted the patient’s right to refuse treatment. The reason for such, at first sight, a strange decision, lies in the American respect for human rights, when the right for death stands in one row with that for life. The physician assisted suicide became so popular that in few years several more American states decided to join the program. Hence, in March 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court authorized the removal of respirator from Karen Quinlan, a comma patient. It looked quite reasonable at that time and is still considered quite acceptable that the doctors decided to terminate Karen’s life, for he showed little signs of life and it was evident he would never fight off his vegetative condition.

The events of March entailed California, which became the first US state to pass a law granting terminally ill patients the right to authorize withdrawal of life support.  Consequently, in 1977 such states as Arkansas, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas became the first states to have their rights to die bills signed into laws.  Even as Pope John Paul II’s opposition was considered as setback by euthanasia crusaders, the American medical associated pledged support. In 1987 the California state became the first public body to pass a resolution supporting assisted dying. Understanding the fact of how terrible it is to see your relative’s dying and having no opportunity to help them recover, in 1994, the Oregon state passed The Death with Dignity Act, allowing physician assisted dying.

It is worth saying that The United Kingdom as well as The United States of America was not the only country to legally adopt euthanasia. Following the suit, a few other states, e.g. the Netherlands, allowed the patients to personally decide whether they have strengths to continue fighting or the time has come to quit the game of life.  And it didn’t take long. In 2005, the Terry Schlavo case made the national news. A resident of Florida, who suffered from a cardiac arrest, Terry, whose brain did not receive enough oxygen for normal functioning, decided to pass away not to be a burden for his relatives and the society in general.

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Thus, judging from the above-mentioned data, it becomes clear that euthanasia seems to be reasonable at times. Though, just with any controversial issue, there are those who support and those who totally disapprove of it, recalling such reasons as religion or human rights. Beware! Aren’t your own rights broken when you have to pay huge sums of money to sustain those in prison, those who possibly killed someone’s parents, children, or friends? Are you responsible for those who raped somebody’s daughter or knocked someone’s son, exceeding the speed limit? Have you ever faced such a situation, your answer will be positive. And there is no reason to lie.


Hence, to draw the line, it shall be said that the issue of euthanasia is very debatable. So, before taking a decision the one has to thoroughly consider all the circumstances which have led to one’s necessity to make such a cardinal step.

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