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The issue of active euthanasia has come to the attention of the public over the past decades as more people demand for the right to be assisted to die.
In active euthanasia, the physician administers a lethal injection on the patient causing him/her to die due to the lethal solution and not from natural cause. Numerous cases of terminally ill people who are in extreme pain have been used to make a case for assisted suicide. This has caused a considerable amount of debate on the issue of active euthanasia (doctor assisted suicide) throughout the world.
Advocates of active euthanasia claim that in some situations, it is not only right but also the moral thing for the physician to assist the patient to commit suicide. On the other hand, opponents assert that there is no moral justification of active euthanasia and it should therefore not be permitted. This paper will argue that active euthanasia is unjustifiable and proceed to offer reason why this practice is morally wrong.
Why Active Euthanasia is Morally Wrong
Active euthanasia will promote the development of a society that gives priority to economic returns over individual freedom. A major concern is that many medical decisions are financial as well and as such, active euthanasia might be abused out of financial considerations. One of the most basic arguments against euthanasia is that each life is valued and a price cannot be put on it.
The society therefore values life takes all measures to preserve it even if this means incurring some additional cost. When economic considerations become the basis for making decisions concerning the worth of human life, negative consequences may follow. It is possible that patients will choose euthanasia not because they feel that their life has no value but rather out of pressure from their family due to motivations to save money by avoiding medical expenses.
Permitting voluntary active euthanasia is a slippery slope that could eventually lead to involuntary active euthanasia. Advocates of this practice assert that it will only be resorted to when there is no other option and when the life of the patient had deteriorated to a level where death is the humane thing. They further argue that active euthanasia will only be performed at the request of a patient and without any compulsion from outside actors.
Clark (1998) asserts that if active euthanasia is allowed for terminally ill people whose plight is so desperate that compassion seems to demand that their request for assisted suicide be granted, it will invariably lead to the allowing of other unacceptable acts of euthanasia. If physicians are allowed to kill terminally ill patients who choose to have their lives ended voluntarily, it can eventually lead to a situation where doctors kill patients with similar illnesses who might not necessary want to die.
The integrity of the medical profession would be greatly damaged if active euthanasia were encouraged. Most people have developed the view that medical professionals are only meant to heal and alleviate pain. This view helps to establish the integrity of the medical profession and create a trust in doctors by the patients.
If active euthanasia is allowed, the integrity will be eroded since doctors will start to be viewed as professionals who can take lives at will. Dixon notes that active euthanasia creates a conflict between the social commitment of the physician to sustain life and the request by a patient for the physician to assist in ending life (5).
Today’s health care system is characterized by the absence of a close relationship between the patient and the physician. There is therefore a risk that active euthanasia might be overused by the physicians since they have no close association with the patient. This is a valid concern since human contact is diminishing and people are more likely to engage in inhumane actions today.
Clark reveals that people exhibit a high willingness to act inhumanely with over 60% of subjects in one study stating that they approved of “mercy killing” of the unfit if a population explosion could not be averted (252). Allowing active euthanasia would justify the killing of people who are regarded as unfit to live.
Active euthanasia is not a pragmatic practice since it might reduce the future efficiency of the doctor due to stress. By engaging in active euthanasia, a physician is at risk of developing negative psychological reactions since the physician is the immediate cause of the patient’s death.
Even for physicians who support euthanasia in some cases, taking the life of a patient is contrary to the doctor’s instinct to preserve life. The Utilitarian ethics theory suggests that the moral action is the once that enhances the welfare of the majority. A physician uses his skills for the good of many members of the society.
If active euthanasia is going to compromise his psychological well-being, the physician will not be able to effectively serve the members of the society. It can therefore be argued that active euthanasia while alleviating the pain of one patient will cause harm to many others who will not benefit from the physician’s services. From a utilitarian approach, active euthanasia is therefore not moral.
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Aiding, abetting or assisting in the death of a person through active euthanasia is a crime in most countries and this law applies also for physicians who are handling dying patients who are suffering and asking for help in dying. Snelling states that most Western nations treat active euthanasia as murder and medical professionals accused of this are dealt with by the justice system (352).
Active euthanasia is therefore morally wrong since it would be contrary to the laws of the land. This outlook is in line with Kant’s theory of categorical imperative, which declares that the right action is the one that follows the rules in place. Even in instances where physicians feel justified to assist a patient end his/her life because of their terminal illness, they should not since the law prohibits this act.
Arguments in Favor of Active Euthanasia
Advocates of active euthanasia claim that the practice is beneficial to all the parties involved. The suffering patient is put out of their misery and allowed to have a dignified death. The patient’s family is spared from watching their loved one suffer and their medical expenses are reduced.
The physicians are also freed up making it possible for them to better serve other patients who are not terminally ill and will benefit more from the doctor’s medical services. From a consequentialist approach, active euthanasia is therefore morally justified since it seems to benefit all the players involved. This argument assumes that it is possible to identify the cases where killing the patient will produce more overall good than refusing to kill them.
This is not the case and killing a patient might have negative impacts on all parties involved. The competence of the doctor might be affected by this action making it impossible for him/her to provide services to other patients. The family of the patient might also face great psychological suffering because of the decision of the patient to end his/her life through active euthanasia.
Proponents of active euthanasia assert that it should be allowed since voluntary passive euthanasia for terminally ill adults is acceptable and both forms of euthanasia and it is impossible to morally distinguish between the two. Dixon declares that active and passive euthanasia both achieve the same objectives and the two are indistinguishable since they face the same objections (4).
It is therefore not justified to allow one while the other is rejected just because the physician is the one who administers the lethal injection. These proponents of active euthanasia point out that in passive euthanasia, the physician provides the patient with information on how to commit suicide and even prepares the lethal solution for the patient.
Reviewing the issue using deontological ethics demonstrates that the two forms of euthanasia are morally different. Deontological ethics place weight on the rules and one of the rules in the medical profession is that killing is wrong. This approach differentiates between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia since one entails killing while the other is letting die.
From this approach, the two actions are not morally at part and passive euthanasia is morally acceptable while active euthanasia is not. In addition to this, passive euthanasia is less prone to manipulation since the patient administers the lethal solution to himself/herself. The moral nature of active and passive euthanasia is therefore not equivalent.
Proponents of active euthanasia claim that it is at times the most human thing to do. Most of the patients who request for assisted suicide are terminally ill and in severe pain. At times, the patient’s death is already imminent and keeping him/her alive only results in more pain and suffering for them with no benefit.
In such a case, the human thing to do would be to assist the patient end their pain through euthanasia. While this is a valid point, using it as a justification for active euthanasia will be harmful to the society in the long term. Clark declares that if euthanasia becomes an ethically acceptable alternative for terminally ill patients who are in great pain, then research into pain control and terminal care will no longer be deemed necessary and people will not look for better alternatives to killing the terminally ill (252).
This paper set out to argue that active euthanasia is morally wrong and should therefore not be practiced by medical professionals. The paper began by highlighting the negative effects of this practice including the damaging of the medical profession’s integrity and the promotion of a society where economic considerations override individual freedoms.
The paper has argued against the consequentialist approach that supports active euthanasia due to the alleged benefits that this act has on the society. The paper has highlighted some of the arguments given in favor of mercy killing and presented counterarguments to the same. From the discussions provided in this paper, it is clear that active euthanasia cannot be justified from a moral perspective. The practice should therefore never be allowed in our country.
Clark, Michael. “Euthanasia and the Slippery Slope.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 15.3 (1998): 251-257. Web.
Dixon, Nicholas. “On the Difference between Physician-Assisted Suicide and Active Euthanasia.” Hastings Center Report 28.5(1998): 3-12. Print.
Snelling, Paul. “Consequences count: against absolutism at the end of life.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 46.4 (2004): 350-357. Web.