One of the most peculiar aspects of a post-industrial living is that, as time goes on, a number of religion-based moral dogmas are being exposed conceptually fallacious.
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The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to an ongoing debate on whether the practice of euthanasia should attain a fully legitimate medicinal status or not, which in turn has been sparked by the process of a dogma about the ‘sanctity of human life’ becoming increasingly less credible.
The term euthanasia derives from two Greek words, which mean ‘good death’ when combined (Moulton, Hill & Burdette 252). In essence, euthanasia presupposes terminally ill people’s unrestricted ability to choose in favor of ending their lives.
After having realized that their continuous existence is being essentially futile, since there is nothing to it, but solely an acute physical pain, with no hope of recovery, terminally ill patients ask physicians to assist them with passing away peacefully and painlessly. Thus, in the conceptual sense of this word, the term euthanasia is being essentially synonymous to the notion of compassion.
In its turn, this suggests that the practice of euthanasia is being thoroughly consistent with the very logic of Western medicine’s discursive progress. The reason for this is quite apparent – as time goes on, the methodologies of a medicinal treatment grow increasingly affiliated with the notion of compassion.
For example; whereas, during the course of 19th century, it used to be considered a customary practice by many physicians to perform surgeries on patients, without using of any anesthetics, whatsoever – by 20th century’s twenties and thirties, the application of anesthetics, during the course of a surgery, became a must (Ludmerer 371).
In its turn, this points out to the fact that, in the field of health care, the notion of medicinal compassion organically derives out of the notion of scientific progress, and not out of the vaguely defined notion of morality. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, despite the fact that that the term euthanasia is being closely associated with the notion of compassion, there is much controversy to it.
This simply could not be otherwise, because in the field of health care, being companionate towards an incurably ill patient presupposes physician’s willingness to end such a patient’s unnecessary suffering.
As it was noted by Chwang: “The point of making a futility determination in clinical care is to allow medical professionals to withdraw or withhold care” (489).
Given the fact that, as it was implied earlier, Western medicinal ethics continue to undergo a qualitative transformation, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that; whereas, even as recent as a few decades ago, the concept of euthanasia has been mostly used in conjunction with the term nazism – today, more and more health care professionals, as well as ordinary citizens, grow to think of this concept in terms of a compassion and also in terms of incurably ill patients being provided with an opportunity to exercise their basic human rights, such as the freedom to make conscious choices:
“It (euthanasia) seeks to reassure us we can die as we choose, and to provide a technically decisive solution to our dying” (Callahan 92).
The main motivational factor behind such a tendency appears to be the fact that, as the realities of today’s living become exponentially post-industrial, the very essence of Western medicine-related public discourse undergoes a drastic transformation.
Whereas, the Judeo-Christian concept of a health care refers to patients from the essentially positivist (functional) perspective:
“Starkly put, the patient is reduced to a physical body composed of separate components that occupy a machine-like structure” (Marcum 393), the so-called bioethical (post-modern) concept of a health care seeks not only to address a particular patient’s illness as ‘thing in itself’, but provide him or her with the sensation of emotional comfort, as the result of physicians treating such a patient as a sovereign individual, capable of making rational choices on its own.
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There is a fully objective explanation to the rise of modern bioethics – the continuous progress in the field of medicine, physics and chemistry, had exposed the utter fallaciousness of Christianity, as a religion that, while serving as the foundation upon which Western ethics are based, insists on the separate existence of body and soul.
And, since there can be no soul outside of one’s body, the individual’s suffering cannot be regarded as something detached from what represents such an individual’s existential uniqueness.
Moreover, since continuous suffering is quite incompatible with the laws of nature, responsible individuals must not go about discussing it in an artificially positive light, as religious people tend to do, but to strive to eliminate it – pure and simple.
We can only agree with Van Hooft, when he states: “It is an immoral gesture to refuse to see the suffering for what it is: useless. Our response to the suffering of the other must be compassion, not explanation” (16).
Apparently, it nowadays becomes increasingly clear to physicians that, under no circumstances may the issue of patient’s emotional and physical suffering be overlooked, which is why the notion of patient’s well-being continues to assume ever-more defined three-dimensional subtleties.
That is, the notion of suffering is now progressively looked upon as not merely the immediate consequence of a patient experiencing physical pain, but as the one of patient’s states of mind – as the part of his or her identity. Therefore, contemporary bioethics refers to the physician’s ability to alleviate patient’s suffering as probably the most important indication of his or her professional adequacy.
Nevertheless, as we are being well aware of, many of today’s physicians remain strongly opposed to the prospect of euthanasia attaining a fully legitimate medicinal status. Dyck has outlined the theoretical premise behind their stance on euthanasia: “Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide violate the moral responsibility to treat human beings as having incalculable worth” (Dyck 69).
What it means is that, for those who oppose euthanasia, protecting the abstract and utterly unrealistic concept of ‘life’s sanctity’ from being affected by the 21st century’s objective realities, means so much more then benefiting incurable patients in only one way they can be benefitted – relieving them of the burden of a futile and painful existence.
Therefore, even though the opponents of euthanasia justify their stance on the issue by making continuous references to the Hippocratic Oath, as such that in their view is being irreconcilable with the idea that physicians can address dying patients’ last requests, the true motivations behind moralists’ intolerable attitude towards euthanasia appears to be of purely irrational essence – by opposing it, they simply strive to address their own death-related anxieties.
According to Fenigsen: “The doctors who resist euthanasia are in many instances, people who entered medicine to conquer their own fear of disease and death” (Fenigsen 157).
Apparently, these people’s fear of death causes them to sublimate it into pseudo-moralistic theories; they strive to impose upon the society, at the expense of refusing even to consider the possibility that terminally ill patients might be so much better off being treated in rational, rather than in a religiously-irrational manner.
Thus, it will be absolutely appropriate, on our part, to suggest that the essence of controversy, surrounding euthanasia, derives out of the fact that the contemporary code of medical ethics is simply being utterly outdated.
This can have only one consequence – it is only the matter of time, before the outdated code of social ethics, concerned with the treatment of incurably ill patients, would be adjusted to correspond to the notion of sanity.
Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that those who oppose euthanasia being given an official status, actually strive for nothing less than reversing the course of civilizational progress backward, without even realizing it.
Still, as we are all well aware of – within a context of science-fueled progress vs. religion-fueled morality, the latter does not stand even a slightest chance.
Nowadays, more and more health care professionals come to realize that euthanasia must be fully legalized, because incurable diseases do not deprive terminally ill patients of their humanity, which is something professional moralists have a hard time understanding.
According to Valerius: “Since it is commonly accepted that medicine should be looking at things from the point of view of the patients’ interests, it is plausible that the view that a patient’s autonomy should be respected even if the courses of action she is considering taking were harmful” (124).
We can only agree with the author – the revolutionary breakthroughs in the field of medicinal science, which had taken place during the course of last thirty years; provide metaphysical preconditions for the code of contemporary medicinal ethics to be thoroughly revised.
In its turn, this will result in euthanasia becoming a commonplace medicinal practice. I believe that this conclusion is being fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Callahan, Daniel. “Death, Mourning, and Medical Progress.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 52.1 (2009): 103-115. Print.
Dyck, Arthur. Life’s Worth: The Case against Assisted Suicide. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, Print.
Fenigsen, Richard. “Other People’s Lives: Reflections on Medicine, Ethics, and Euthanasia.” Issues in Law & Medicine 24.2 (2008): 149-168. Print.
Ludmerer, Kenneth. “Methodological Issues in the History of Medicine: Achievements and Challenges.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 134.4 (1990): 367-386. Print.
Marcum, James. “Reflections on Humanizing Biomedicine.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 51.3 (2008): 392-405. Print.
Moulton, Benjamin, Hill, Terrence & Burdette, Amy. “Religion and Trends in Euthanasia Attitudes among U.S. Adults, 1977-2004.” Sociological Forum 21.2 (2006): 249-327. Print.
Van Hooft, Stan. “The Meanings of Suffering.” The Hastings Center Report 28, 5 (1998): 13-19. Print.
Varelius, Jukka. “Voluntary Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and the Goals of Medicine.” Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 31.2 (2006): 121-137. Print.