Cases of euthanasia have persisted in the American judicial system, and this is a major challenge the states are facing. Though, those who believe in the patients’ autonomy and sympathize with them actually find it hard to accept the reality that legalizing euthanasia poses a lot of danger to many people’s rights and welfare.
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It is a controversial debate to argue that there are certain rights linked to euthanasia whose denial can lead to application of liberty-limiting principles. Therefore, sound judicial policies are necessary in tackling this issue. Instead of leaving patients under the agony of extreme pain and suffering, positive clinical reforms as well as social reforms are necessary.
Terminal sedation is morally right since the patient consents to it before its execution, and it is a method of letting the terminally ill patients die rather than killing them directly. This same argument can as well be supported by the fact that physicians have the moral duty to let their patients die peacefully and to relive them from pain and suffering. Besides, in most cases where duties conflict, it is the patients’ desires which are left as the deciding factors (Quill 474).
Terminal sedation involves administering high sedative doses so as to relieve the patient from severe physical distress and it makes him/her unconscious till death (Quill 475). In fact, termination sedation is allowed in cases whereby it is the only means to relieve the patient’s suffering.
Under such circumstances, it is neither immoral nor unethical and the doctor is at liberty to administer high doses of sedatives to the terminally ill patient. Contrary to euthanasia, terminal sedation can be regarded as a way of letting terminally ill patients die. However, euthanasia can be regarded as direct killing because the doctors administer lethal injections and drugs to the patients.
Holding to the view that terminal sedation is morally permissible should not stop someone from debating the permissibility of euthanasia since the intention of carrying out “mercy killing” is based on the patient’s consent with an aim to relieve him/her from incurable suffering (Rietjens 6).
In order to understand moral and ethical controversies surrounding terminal sedation, it is necessary to agree to the fact that a person can engage in an action that is morally permissible, but he/she is still morally blamed for it. For example, a physician who carries out terminal sedation, an act that is morally permissible, is still morally blamed.
This is rather awkward since physicians have good intentions towards patients, and that is why at times they engage in activities which relieve the patients’ suffering. For instance, a terminal cancer patient whose lung is failing has been on the respirator for a long time, undergoing extreme pain and suffering might request the physician in charge to remove him from the discomfort of respirator.
In this case it would be morally permissible for the doctor to respect the patient’s decision not to be put back under the discomfort of the respirator. The doctor might as well get tired with the patient’s persistence to be removed from the respirator, and decides to respect his/her wishes.
In this case, the physician’s actions are still morally right, not because he/she was tired of dealing with the patient, but it is morally permissible to remove life support from a terminally ill patient who wants to die. Indeed, it is unethical and morally wrong to prolong life of those terminally ill patients who want to die (Rietjens 2).
The McAfee case
Focusing on this case, it is not always important to exercise the right to end life since there can be other ways to make life more comfortable and worth living. McAfee depended on ventilator for quite long after the motorcycle accident, a situation that made him seek an appeal from the law court to be allowed to exercise the right to stop treatment. His case gained a lot of publicity and many people came to offer him support services that improved his life and encouraged him to continue living (PBS Local Station 1).
In fact, McAfee did not exercise his right to stop treatment. Therefore, it is important at times to let people die naturally. Though, it is important to tackle issues of patients assisted suicide and euthanasia from the clinical perspective, it is also important to analyze the social aspects (PBS Local Station 1).
DWDA and the Ashcroft to it (rejected by the Supreme Court)
The Supreme Court made a ruling that rejected the constitutional right of a patient engaging in euthanasia or patient assisted suicide (PAS). This would indeed intensify the debate on euthanasia and patient assisted suicide owing to the fact that the patients themselves strongly believe that they have liberty to terminate their life when undergoing extreme pain and suffering (Rietjens 4).
In Oregon’s case, it was argued whether Oregon had some rights towards allowing doctors to carry out patient assisted suicide (PAS) to those patients who were terminally ill (Oregon Public Health 1).
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According to Ashcroft, it was illegitimate for Oregon doctors to administer drugs that help the terminally ill patients die (Oregon Public Health 1). However, terminally ill patients strongly believed that it was morally right for them to die peacefully, than undergoing through the most terrible pain and suffering during their last days.
Therefore, revoking Oregon doctors’ licenses for having prescribed drugs for euthanasia was a form of infringement to the patients’ right and liberty to die peacefully. This action taken by the Attorney General to revoke the doctors’ licenses, made Oregon to sue the administration for having overstepped its powers since it was not the right body to regulate the US medical practice (Rietjens 3).
Oregon doctors found it inappropriate to be stopped from carrying out patient assisted suicide, arguing that it was neither unethical nor immoral act since it was the patients’ morality. The doctors also argued that killing patients is unethical, morally wrong and is not one of the medical purposes. The supporters of Ashcroft dismissed Oregon’s practice as bad medicine since it interferes with the human dignity.
Though, on the patients’ side, it is not a question of ethics and morality since they strongly believe that they have the right to die peacefully, and not necessarily going through excruciating pain and suffering. On the other hand, the doctors believe in good medical practice, and making the terminally ill patients die peacefully is not a bad medicine. Therefore, any law that rejects euthanasia is a bad one because it denies the patients the right and the liberty to die peacefully (PBS Local Station 1).
In sum, it is both morally and ethically permissible to carry out euthanasia and patient assisted suicide (PAS). However, we should not always grant people the right and liberty to end life, as witnessed in the McAfee case. In addition, it has been witnessed that legal challenges are some of the liberty-limiting principles used when the rights to end life are denied. These two areas try to overlap since the right to life is legally enshrined in the constitution.
However, moral issues and clinical challenges play some crucial roles in analyzing euthanasia, patient assisted suicide (PAS) and sedative termination. Therefore, in most cases a patient who refuses medicine and wants to die should have his/her will respected, especially those suffering from terminal illnesses.
Oregon Public Health. Death with Dignity Act. Public Health, n.d. Web.
PBS Local Station. Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Case. Pbs News Hour, 05 Oct. 2005. Web.
Quill, Timothy. “Death and Dignity: A case of Individualized Decision Making”. New England Journal of Medicine 324.10 (1991):473-483. Print.
Rietjens, Judith. Terminal Sedation and Euthanasia. Archinte, n.d. Web.