The terms euthanasia, mercy killing, and physician-assisted suicide are used interchangeably. They refer to a way of “painlessly terminating one’s life with the “humane” motive of ending his/her suffering” (Augestad et al. 707). The debate on euthanasia touches on morality and the essence of being human. The issue of euthanasia is widely renowned such that even individuals with limited knowledge in the field of bioethics understand it. According to Augestad et al., euthanasia has been in existence since ancient Rome and Greece (709). The introduction of the Hippocratic School led to the abolishment of the practice. Most Christians argue that the practice is against Bible teachings. Today, numerous philosophical foundations help to understand the concept of euthanasia. The foundations contribute to the current support and opposition to the practice. Before administering euthanasia, it is imperative to consider factors such as the patient’s wishes and condition, quality of life, and the sick person’s independence and aptitude.
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Three philosophical foundations form the background of euthanasia debate in modern technology-oriented medicine. They are human rights, deontological, and teleological foundations. The teleological perspective seeks to establish the motive of living. According to the perspective, human endeavors to live a quality life (Augestad et al. 712). The teleological approach considers quality life as one without suffering and characterized by healthy social relations, vigor, and wellbeing. The approach maintains that it is imperative to do all that it takes to ensure that a person has a dignified ending. Cohen et al. posit, “The autonomy in which an individual shapes his/her life and self-determination by which one controls the circumstances are of vital significance” (148). Therefore, euthanasia is justifiable if a person’s life is in jeopardy.
The deontological approach aims at identifying people’s responsibilities towards their life as well as that of their colleagues. People must care for life and uphold it. As such, euthanasia and suicide are wrong since they defy the fundamental responsibility of defending life. Euthanasia goes against a person’s value in the name of taking care of his/her welfare. A person cannot validate a moral obligation to take life (Cohen et al. 151). Thus, euthanasia is unjustifiable. People must preserve their life and that of others. Consequently, they should oppose any attempt to terminate life even in times of illness. The human rights approach does not establish circumstances that warrant death. Hence, no one has the right to authorize the termination of life. The human rights approach is against people waiving the right to life depending on their health condition. According to the approach, taking human life is unethical and violation of the core right to life.
Factors to Consider
Patient’s Health Situation and Wishes
The patient should be given the liberty to choose the necessary treatment at the end-of-life. The sick person should be the one to decide when death is the best option. Euthanasia is prevalent among cancer patients. Cancer patients go through excruciating pain. At times, they find the pain intolerable and request for physician-assisted suicide. According to Goldney, when the pain becomes unbearable, the high value attributed to life depreciates (117). As a result, the patients, as well as their relatives, start thinking about the alternative to life. Research shows that many patients would prefer to live despite suffering. Studies conducted in the United States, Australia, Canada, and England show that many patients, despite their health condition, prefer to live. People have a passion for life. Consequently, it is imperative to understand the wishes of the patient. If the physicians and relatives do not understand the wishes of the patient, it is imperative to assume that he/she would prefer to live. The doctors should endeavor to prolong the life of the patient but not administer euthanasia.
Quality of Life
A majority of the proponents of euthanasia use the quality of life to support their argument. The quality of life may have different meanings depending on the general social context (Goldney 121). For instance, job creation and environmental conservation may help to improve the quality of life. In the medical field, “physicians may enhance the quality of life via rehabilitation, cosmetic treatment, physiotherapy, psychology, and palliative care among other means” (Goldney 129). In the context of end-of-life, ethicists who advocate euthanasia misuse the phrase “quality of life”. Rather than enhancing a person’s life, they seek to end it. They use the phrase “quality of life” to justify the practice of euthanasia. Most doctors and pro-life activists who are against euthanasia term the phrase “quality of life” as mischievous (McCormack et al. 76). They allege that it is subjective. Even though physicians may evaluate the quality of a particular life, they do not have the right to decide when to terminate a person’s life. Doctors should allow the patients to decide on whether to continue living or die. A patient’s relatives and doctors should not determine when life becomes meaningless to the sick. On the other hand, no one should force a patient to live if he/she requests for physician-assisted suicide.
It does not imply that a life without human dignity, self-responsibility, and consciousness is of poor quality. Besides, it does not suggest that a life characterized by pain and suffering is inevitably void of worth. McCormack et al. argue that sick persons may decide that their life is void of quality due to the lack of particular features attributed to value (82). For instance, some patients may think that life typified by dementia and unconsciousness is meaningless. Conversely, patients undergoing incredible suffering may believe that their poise is intact despite the situation. Patients view life differently under different circumstances. Thus, it is imperative to consider the opinion of the patient before administering euthanasia. The patient should have the final say regarding the quality of his/her life.
Patient’s Independence and Competence
Doctors should allow a patient to determine whether to terminate his/her life or preserve it. Doctors ought to take a liberal position when dealing with patients. They should not prolong the life of patients who believe that doing so would adversely affect their dignity. In some situations, the patients are unable to make comprehensible and independent decisions due to their age, unconsciousness, or mental state. McLachlan claims that in cases where the sick people are not in a position to make independent decisions, doctors should check if they had initially stated their desire to prolong life (91).
If the patients had previously indicated that they had no wish to extend their life, the doctors should respect that decision. Once in a while, the patients express the desire to terminate their life if they become seriously ill. However, when that time comes, they show the willingness to cling to life. In such a situation, doctors should neglect the past decision. In a case where it is difficult to determine the patient’s past and present wishes, and the sick person does not demonstrate the zeal to live, the doctors should make decisions in consultation with the relatives of the patient (Sjostrand et al. 228). Doctors who are against euthanasia claim that there is no dignity in ending the life of a terminally-ill patient. They argue that killing is not one of the physician’s responsibilities. Legalizing euthanasia would give every person the power to end life without considering the wishes of the patients.
Euthanasia helps to alleviate suffering amid terminally-ill patients. However, it is imperative to consider the interests of the patients before carrying out euthanasia. Doctors and relatives must listen to the wishes of the patients. The principle of democracy dictates that individuals have the power to determine what is right for them. As a result, doctors must show concern for the patients’ interests. Physicians and family members should give equal weight to the patients’ life and independence. Administering euthanasia is a matter of life and death. Consequently, it is important to exercise diligence. Doctors should take appropriate safety measures to make sure that they serve the interests and wishes of the patients. They should respect the patient’s independence and avoid predispositions to medical paternalism. Human life is of immense value and significance. Therefore, the decision to terminate life should be made with great care. Doctors should ensure that patients have adequate information about their health conditions to enable them to make informed decisions.
Augestad, Liv, et al. “Time Trade-Off and Attitudes towards Euthanasia: Implications of Using ‘Death’ as an Anchor in Health State Valuation.” Quality of Life Research, vol. 22, no. 4, 2013, pp. 705-714.
Cohen, Joachim, et al. “Public Acceptance of Euthanasia in Europe: A Survey Study in 47 Countries.” International Journal of Public Health, vol. 59, no. 1, 2014, pp. 143-156.
Goldney, Robert. “Neither Euthanasia nor Suicide, but Rather Assisted Death.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 46, no. 3, 2012, pp. 114-135.
McCormack, Ruaidhri, et al. “Attitudes of UK Doctors towards Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Systematic Literature Review.” Palliative Medicine, vol. 26, no. 1, 2012, pp. 71-94.
McLachlan, Hugh. “Moral Duties and Euthanasia: Why to Kill is not Necessarily the Same as to Let Die.” Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 37, no. 12, 2014, pp. 87-103.
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Sjostrand, Manne, et al. “Autonomy-Based Arguments against Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Critique.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, vol. 16, no. 2, 2013, pp. 225-230.