Currently, many medical workers, scholars and journalists discuss the moral permissibility of euthanasia or assisted suicide of a person who suffers from an intolerable pain. More importantly, this issue can be of great relevance to patients and their families.
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The key question is whether such a practice can be accepted from an ethical perspective. It is vital to examine various arguments in favor or against this practice. This essay will argue that people, who are dying in great pain, should be allowed voluntary euthanasia since it may the only available option. This is the main thesis that should be elaborated in more detail.
The arguments discussed in the paper will be based on the ideas introduced by Dan Brock and James Rachels who believe that a patient is not morally obliged to stay alive if his/her existence is full of suffering and there is no way of alleviating this suffering. Furthermore, a patient should be regarded as a person who can take informed and independent decisions that have to be respected or at least respected by healthcare professionals. This is the central premise underlying the thesis. The following arguments will rely on the ideas of Dan Brock and James Rachels.
One can make several points in order to support the idea of voluntary euthanasia. In particular, one can speak about a person’s right to autonomy or self-determination and well-being (Brock 11). More importantly, the right to self-determination can be extended to manner or time of one’s death (Brock 11).
This issue is particularly important for a person who wants to avoid suffering or preserve his/her dignity (Brock 11). Thus, by denying the right to voluntary euthanasia, medical workers deny a patient the right to self-determination as well as to dignity. Again, one should take into consideration that patients ask for euthanasia in those cases, when their suffering cannot be relieved in any way.
Additionally, one should note that euthanasia should not be confused with killing because unlike a murderer, a physician does not gain anything from assisting a patient with suicide (Rachels 66). Moreover, a healthcare professional does not force a person to end his/her life. This distinction is important for ethical justification of voluntary euthanasia. This term implies that a patient can take a rational and informed decision about his/her life.
Moreover, one should take into account that in most cases, people require euthanasia when they have a terminal illness. In this case, the word terminal suggests that the death of a patient is usually inevitable and medical workers can only prolong the acute pain of a person. Therefore, this time can be unbearable for a patient. Therefore, one can argue that it is unethical for medical workers to force people to stay alive when they do not want to. This is one of the main arguments that should be taken into account.
It is also important to mention that euthanasia is often applied to animals especially when there is no way of easing their pain. Under such circumstances, euthanasia can be regarded as an act of mercy and one can hardly say that it is immoral. Therefore, one can say that a human being should not be denied the right to the same mercy. Certainly, people may not like the idea of comparing a human being to an animal. Nevertheless, in both cases, they can suffer from excruciating pain.
Finally, one should mention that euthanasia can also relieve the suffering of the patient’s family. In many cases, these people have to cope with emotional distress, because they understand that their relatives or beloved are dying and they cannot help them in any way. This experience can be damaging for every person.
Very often, such moments can inflict an emotional trauma on an individual. Therefore, the relatives of a patient can also support the idea of voluntary euthanasia. These are the main arguments that can be used to defend the idea of suicide assisted by medical workers. It seems that these arguments should be considered by healthcare professionals and legislators.
Nevertheless, one should note that there are possible objections to the application of voluntary euthanasia. First of all, the legitimate status of euthanasia can result into a variety of discriminatory laws against people with disabilities who can be killed by the state. They can be denied the right to life. In other words, the legitimate status of assisted suicide can result in a variety of unethical practices. Thus, the supporters of voluntary euthanasia should be aware of this danger.
Secondly, the application of voluntary euthanasia should not be regarded as the only way of reducing the pain that a patient can experience. One should not forget about the existence of medication and various methods that can be used to help a person. Thus, healthcare professionals should focus on the improvement of their work, rather than moral justification of voluntary euthanasia.
Additionally, frequent application of euthanasia can justify the murder of patients in order to reduce the cost of healthcare. In other words, there is a possibility that healthcare organizations will actually support the idea of assisted suicide instead of helping patients overcome their emotional and physical pain. So, it is possible to say that legitimate standards of voluntary euthanasia can lower the ethical standards set for medical institutions. This is one of the problems that should not be overlooked.
It is also important to note that a person’s intention to commit suicide can be partly explained by the depressed psychological state. The decision of a person can be attributed to a momentary impulse, and this decision to die can hardly be justified. Thus, medical workers should be able to distinguish an irreversible willingness to end one’s life from a temporary weakness. This is one of the issues that should be kept in mind, especially by medical workers.
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There is another reason why euthanasia is often criticized. In many cases, a patient cannot give consent to assisted suicide. For instance, a person can fall into coma and medical workers may not be able to help this patient. Under such circumstances, the relatives are the only people who have a right to take decisions about the life of a dying person. Therefore, the application of euthanasia may not always be voluntary.
Finally, one should mention that the opponents of euthanasia refer to religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life that can be regarded as a gift of God. Assisted suicide means that a person rejects this gift. So, religious people may not accept the arguments of favor of voluntary euthanasia. These objections are necessary because they urge medical workers to remember that their decisions can have far-reaching implications for various patients.
Overall, it is possible to provide several responses to these critical remarks. First of all, euthanasia should be seen only as a voluntary option that is available to a patient. It must not be regarded as an excuse for killing people. The advocates of euthanasia never try to support the idea that medical workers can kill a person against his/her will. It is the duty of policy-makers to make sure that this form assisted suicide is not used to justify murder. So, this distinction is critical for this discussion.
Furthermore, the opponents of assisted suicide forget that very often effective pain management is not possible. There are many cases when medical workers cannot offer any medication that can significantly reduce the suffering of a patient. In some cases, a person, who is dying in great pain, is simply helpless. This is one of the reasons why many healthcare professionals accept the idea of voluntary euthanasia.
The critics of assisted suicide are right in pointing out that a person’s willingness to die can be explained by emotional state. It should be taken into consideration that the decision about euthanasia must never be taken on the spur of the moment. A patient should be informed about existing forms of treatment and ways of easing his/her pain.
More importantly, this person should have a sufficient amount of time in order to make this choice. In other words, this patient must be allowed to take an informed decision about euthanasia. Only in this case such a practice can be morally acceptable.
The opponents of assisted suicide believe that such a practice violates the sanctity of human life. Nevertheless, this life should not turn into continuous and unbearable pain that may completely drive people into insanity. It seems that the critics of euthanasia may not tolerate the idea that any person should doomed to this existence.
Furthermore, religious principles should be confused with medical ethics that emphasizes physical and emotional wellbeing of a patient. This is why religious criticism can hardly be relevant in this case. Nevertheless, this objection should not be disregarded entirely because it shows that voluntary euthanasia should be the last resort for patients and physicians.
Finally, many people object to euthanasia, because in their opinion, the decision regarding euthanasia may contradict the will of the patient. Such situations can occur when patient’s relatives can decide the life of this person should not be sustained. Certainly, such cases can be relevant to both patients and physicians.
Nevertheless, this objection is not quite applicable to the voluntary euthanasia. The thing is that this concept implies that an individual is willing to end his/her life. Moreover, he/she must explicitly state his request for assisted suicide; otherwise, euthanasia can hardly be morally permissible.
The idea of voluntary euthanasia may certainly seem unpleasant to many people; nevertheless, it is still worth discussion and attention. The main arguments in favor of this practice are based on the premise that a patient has a right to well-being and self-determination.
The duty of medical workers is to assist this person, especially if there are no ways easing the pain or treating the disease. Nevertheless, medical workers and legislators should identify specific cases when assisted suicide is legitimate and ethical in order to avoid possible malpractices.
Brock, Dan. “Voluntary Active Euthanasia”. Hastings Center Report 22 (1992): 74-77. Print.
Rachels, James. “Active and Passive Euthanasia”. The New England Journal of Medicine 292.2(1975): 66-70. Print.