Euthanasia is a unique practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal disease/illness or an incurable condition by means of the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment or lethal injection. The history of this phenomena dates back for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1906 when the first bill to legalize euthanasia in America was introduced in the Ohio legislature. For several years, legislatures have been turning down bills aimed at the legalization of euthanasia in the United States. In 1937, the Nebraska legislature voted down a bill legalizing voluntary active euthanasia in the U.S. Only two years later, the New York legislature rejected a bill that was also aimed at the legalization of euthanasia in the United States. “In 1991 the Washington State Initiative Bill legalizing voluntary euthanasia was narrowly defeated.” (6) In 1994, Oregon passed a law to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs, but an injunction prevented it from taking effect.
As of today, euthanasia is illegal in almost every country. In fact, it is only legal in the state of Oregon and the Netherlands. These are the only two places in the world where laws specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Oregon permits assisted suicide while the Netherlands permits both euthanasia and assisted suicide. In 1995, Australia’s northern territory approved a euthanasia bill which went into effect in 1996, but it was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997. “Also, in 1997, Columbia’s Supreme Court ruled that penalties for mercy killing should be removed.”(4) This ruling will not go into effect though until guidelines are approved by the Columbian Congress.
In Belgium, lawmakers have agreed on the provisions of a key article in a draft proposal to legalize euthanasia. “The proposed bill would not only allow doctors to euthanasia terminally- ill patients, but also those who are incurably ill with years left to live.” (4) In Michigan, the assisted suicide ballot initiative was defeated due to television ads who are now shifting gears to focus on alternatives to assisted suicide such as hospice care. Advocates for assisted suicide in Michigan are releasing their own radio and television ads in attempt to counter the anti-proposal ads.
Many court cases have come out of the heated topic as well. While the first euthanasia case in Japan was in 1949, it wasn’t until 1962 that the Nagayo Court created a criteria for lawful active euthanasia. ” The court concluded if six conditions could be fulfilled, a death should be admitted as lawful euthanasia.” (6) In 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the Karen Ann Quinlin case that she had the right through her family to refuse life-sustaining treatment. In 1981, A Rotterdam court ruled on conditions under which aiding suicide and administering voluntary euthanasia will not be prosecuted. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands declared that voluntary euthanasia is acceptable subject to ten clearly defined conditions in 1984, and in 1993 the Netherlands passed a law which prevented doctors from being prosecuted when certain guidelines are followed. In 1994, Oregon passed a law to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs, but an injunction prevented it from taking effect. Also in 1994, “delegates from the National People’s Congress in the Republic of China, proposed a law in support of euthanasia.” (6) In 1995, Australia’s Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill by Marshall Perron was instated which allowed euthanasia under careful controls. In 1995, Singapore introduced a right- to-die law which was originally sought after not to legalize euthanasia but to give the terminally ill the right to make a living will.
Throughout this time many societies that were pro euthanasia began forming all over the world. In 1935, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in England was formed by Lord Moynihan and Dr Killick Millard. In 1938, The Euthanasia Society of the United States of America was founded in New York City. In 1973, voluntary euthanasia societies began forming in the Netherlands. Three years later more societies started forming in Japan and Germany. In 1980, “The Voluntary euthanasia Society in Scotland published the first suicide guide, “How to Die With Dignity.” (6) By the 1990’s euthanasia had become a worldwide topic of debate. There are many pros and cons that deal with euthanasia. In dealing with the pro view, the major argument is that all Americans have a constitutional right to life, and with this control of life also comes the authority to end it. “Prohibitions on suicide are viewed by many as a violation of basic constitutional freedoms and governmental interference.” (5) Proponents also use the argument that newly diagnosed patients with terminal illnesses may want to end their lives before they endure physical discomfort or suffering. Patients may want to seek euthanasia in order to avoid being seen in a diminished capacity and protect their memory of an able-bodied life. Another argument for the use of euthanasia is to avoid leaving loved ones the expensive costs of medical care and posing a financial burden to them. Choosing assisted suicide may prove to be more cost efficient than long-term medical care. “Next to pain and suffering, this is the second major reason why people decide to end their lives.”(5) Many proponents see that “The argument against assisted-suicide is advanced by a religious minority who believe that a just, loving god should decide the moment of death.” (3) These are some of the major reasons why proponents for euthanasia support the right to die.
People who oppose the legalization of euthanasia use the argument that once the gate is opened, others lives will be at risk. ” Over time statutes may give rise to broader and less stringent laws that provide people with non-terminal disabilities, an excuse to end their lives.” (5) “Many advocates take the position that legalizing assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia today will lead to active involuntary euthanasia tomorrow.” (5) Another argument is that many people who are terminally ill and feel themselves to be a burden to their family, are not really tired off life and don’t actually want to die. If euthanasia was readily available, the patient might feel obligated to use it.
There are many more arguments on the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide. One dealing with the con view is that the patient’s voluntary and informed consent is never certain because most people who want to die are under duress. If a request is made while an individual is suffering or under excruciating pain, then it is arguable that drugs may have prevented the person from making a fully rational decision. Also it is argued that “the norms of medicine prohibit a physician from ever acting with the intent to kill a patient or to aid him in killing himself.” (1) Some agree as well that “Death is never the answer, and precious lives must be preserved.” (2)
The Hemlock society is a major proponent in assisted suicide. “Hemlock strongly believes that people should be able to have dignity and choice at the end of life. They ought to have the option of a peaceful, gentle, certain and swift death in the company of their loved ones.” (7) The Hemlock society advocated and lobbies for laws that would allow a mentally competent patient to be euthanized with he help of a doctor. Along with this law certain safeguards should be in place such as; a diagnoses of a terminal or irreversible illness by two independent physicians, an evaluation by a mental health professional, a written and witnessed request that is revocable at any time, a waiting period, and monitoring by a state health department.
The American Medical Association strictly opposes the use of euthanasia. “The AMA supports initiatives that help physicians and their patients deal with the clinical and psychological issues at the end-of-life.” (8) They support providing compassionate care for patients nearing death. While modern advances in medical science and technology have helped physicians to treat patients with once critical and life-threatening illnesses, some of these new technologies have merely prolonged the suffering for patients. The AMA still maintains that physicians should practice medicine with respectful and compassionate attitudes.
One pro-life group called Not Dead Yet, understands that people have the right to refuse unwanted treatment. They oppose “a public policy that singles out individuals for legalized killing based on their health status.” (9) They believe that this violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, which denies the equal protection of the law, and health professionals decide who is “eligible.” Not Dead Yet does not want pity or lethal mercy but freedom and life.
CURE is another pro-life group. Their reasons are for compassion and unity. People of CURE believe that “to care is not to kill.” (10) They believe there is an alternative to death and euthanasia which is life and hope. Uniting together will bring strength and a prolonged life.
The International Task Force of Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide also opposes euthanasia. One of their reasons is complications that can occur from usage. Extreme gasping and muscle spasms can occur and has occurred in 7% of cases. While losing consciousness, a person can vomit and then inhale the vomit which has also occurred in 7% of cases. Panic, feelings of terror, and assaultive behavior can take place from the drug-induced confusion. Other problems can include difficulty in taking the drug and a number of days elapsing before death occurs. In 14% of cases there was a failure of the drugs to induce unconsciousness. Another reason why they are anti-euthanasia is because they don’t believe the government should give the right to doctors to kill their patients. They believe that euthanasia is not giving the right to die but the right to kill. There are other alternatives like Hospice which tries to make the patients remaining time comfortable, alleviating pains, and giving spiritual and emotional support.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 71 year old retired pathologist, is known to many as the patriarch of assisted suicide. He is currently serving a sentence of 10-25 in a Michigan correctional facility for his involvement in helping at least 130 people die from euthanasia. He was charged for murder in both 1991 and 1992 when patients of his used a suicide machine he developed, and his medical licence was revoked. Both charges were later dropped though when state judges pointed out that there were no laws against assisted suicide in the state of Michigan. It wasn’t until 1993 when assisted suicide laws took effect, and Kevorkian, who had killed several more patients by this time, was charged again for murder. He served some jail time when he refused to pay the bail after the judge raised it. He was released from jail though later that year when supporters posted the bail.
Between 1994 and 1996, Kevorkian killed some thirty more patients, and is charged for murder three more times. He is acquitted for these cases as well. In 1998, Kevorkian videotaped the injection death of Thomas Youk which aired two months later on “60 Minutes.” He is again charged for murder, and in 1999 is convicted for second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance. Dr. Kevorkian remains one of the most controversial physicians in America today. He has been hailed by some as a hero and by others, little more than a serial killer.
I believe that the legalization of euthanasia would be a good thing for America. An individuals right to determine the time and manner of their death is more important than keeping a suffering person alive for the sake of preserving life. I understand that the legalization of euthanasia will most likely lead to an excuse for many people who are not terminally to end their own lives. But I do believe that an evaluation by a mental health professional for those suspected to have clinical depression or mental incompetence can help prevent most of this. There are many good points and bad points to the legalization of assisted suicide like any controversial issue. I understand it to be a good thing though if a person truly is suffering and has no hopeful prospects for the future.
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Euthanasia is a serious political, moral and ethical issue in today’s society. Most people either strictly forbid it or firmly favor euthanasia. Although, I have no political background or confirmed religion, I choose to formally educate myself on the matter of euthanasia. I feel very strongly about this issue because I am affected by the matter on an almost everyday basis. I am a patient care technician in an emergency room and also work on a cardiac unit in one of Michigan’s top 100 osteopathic hospitals. I’ve actually watched people in pain eventually die. I’ve had to listen to patients beg me to, “pull plugs,” and put pillows over their faces to smother them so they could die faster. Terminally ill patients have a fatal disease from which they will never recover. Euthanasia is when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his/her own life by participating in physician-assisted suicide. After reading the ten sources and extensively researching euthanasia, I still support and promote the legalization of euthanasia. I believe that all people deserve the right to die with dignity.
First of all, I would like to offer my own personal feelings and opinions on the matter of euthanasia because I actually have frequent contact with people who suffer with terminal illnesses. When I was a junior in high school I was offered the opportunity to explore my career options by pursuing advanced learning in the medical field. I attended regular high school for one half of the day, the other half of my day was spent in a nursing home (extended care facility), Port Huron Hospital and also at St. Clair Technology Center. I spent many hours studying medical terminology and proper body mechanics, I also learned how to take care of sick patients while promoting healthy life styles changes. Unfortunately the hardest lesson which was the how to take care of the terminally ill, while being supportive to their many physical, spiritual and emotional needs. I graduated from high school and proceeded to go to college in order to accomplish my goal of becoming a registered nurse. After graduation I moved into my own apartment and took a job at St. John’s Medical Center on an oncology/hospice unit.
I worked at St. John’s for 18 months. Hospice is where terminally ill patients are sent to be cared for during the last stages of their lives. Oncology is the study of tumors, but more specifically, it’s a term usually associated with some kind of cancer. Therefore, for about a year and a half I had to take care of dying patients. These people had a slim chance of surviving for over six months to a year. When my patients were suffering and in pain I had to smile and tell them, “Don’t worry everything will be all right.” We both knew that everything would no be all right and they had just wanted to die. I witnessed patients telling other members of the nursing staff how they had begged and pleaded with god to take their life due to the excruciating pain they were experiencing. The nurse just replied, “Oh sweetie, you shouldn’t say things like that.” I had patients who were so mean and cruel to staff, it was unreal. They were mad at life because they knew it would be taken away soon. I’ve watched patients who were fully coherent and self-sufficient upon admittance in to the hospital become totally confused and bed bound. I watched these people lose all motor skills, which left them crippled and unable to feed or bathe themselves, or even use the toilet. They had lost all of their dignity.
After reading Peter Singer and Mark Sielger’s, “Euthanasia-A Critique,” it is fair to say that these doctors have put forth a strong argument against euthanasia. Singer and Siegler are both medical doctors who are very proficient in their fields. Singer and Siegler make the point that, “the relief of pain and suffering is a crucial goal of medicine,” however, “euthanasia violates the fundamental norms and standards of traditional medicine” (Seyler 333& 335). When a person no longer has the choice of continuing a normal healthy life, unusual circumstances call for rare methods of treatment. Why should a person be tortured with the, “frightening prospect of dying shackled to a modern-day Procrustean bed, surrounded by the latest forms of high technology,” according to Singer and Siegler this is an adamant fear of many fatally ill patients (Seyler 333). Singer and Siegler make several good points in their essay, however, pain control seems to be the biggest issue facing the terminally ill as stated by the doctors. This is entirely untrue. People who are faced with a terminal illness experience just as much emotional turmoil as physical pain. When Singer and Siegler say, “physical pain can be relieved with the appropriate use of analgesic agents,” I am saddened because it has been my own personal experience to watch terminally ill patients become over medicated and drugged up so much that they are unable to think or act for themselves (Seyler 333). When a person can longer speak, think or act for him or herself, that person has been stripped of their dignity.
Sidney Hook’s, “In Defense of Voluntary Euthanasia,” was emotionally charged and very gripping. Sidney Hook is a philosopher, educator and author (Seyler 338). Hook has been so unfortunate as to have sampled death and was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He suffers with congestive heart failure, which one can live with but which if not treated or maintained properly will cause a painful death.
He offers his first hand account of meeting with the Grim Reaper:
I lay at the point of death. A congestive heart failure was treated for diagnostic purposes by an angiogram that triggered a stroke. Violent and painful hiccups, uninterrupted for several days and nights, prevented the ingestion of food. My left side and one of my vocal chords became paralyzed. Some form of pleurisy set in, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of slime. (338)
If this sharp use of imagery isn’t enough to make the reader understand this mans pain, maybe his next account will persuade one to rethink euthanasia, “At one point, my heart stopped beating; just as I lost consciousness, it was thumped back into action again. In one of my lucid intervals during those days of agony, I asked my physician to discontinue all life-supporting services or show me how to do it. He refused and predicted that someday I would appreciate the unwisdom of my request” (Seyler 338). It is important to add Hook’s quotes when reflecting upon his personal experience with death. Hook feels as though he was robbed of the peaceful serenity of death and will have to suffer through it once more, when death comes knocking again.
Euthanasia is a serious issue in today’s political world. Arguments for and against euthanasia are cause for major debate.
Proponents and opponents disagree on at least four controversial issues. The four major issues are, but not limited to, the nature autonomy, the role of beneficence, the distinction between active and passive euthanasia and the public and social implications of legalization. The nature of autonomy basically means that all people are granted the right to think, feel and act for him or herself. The first and fourteenth amendments were put into place to protect an individual’s freedom of religion, speech, privileges, immunities, and equal protection. The role of beneficence involves the physician’s duty to relieve suffering. The distinction between passive and active euthanasia, or killing and allowing one to die. The public and social implications of legalization are totally based on one’s individual feelings.
Euthanasia is a serious topic because it goes against the norms of traditional medicine. Euthanasia is not always applied to terminally patients either. People who have been in serious accidents, or who have debilitating diseases such as severe cases of Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Vascular Diseases (which lead to strokes and heart attacks) are often in consideration for the application of euthanasia. The problem is, however, these patients typically are in a persistent/permanent vegetative state. A persistent/permanent vegetative state (PVS), is a condition in which a person is neither in a coma nor unconscious. In other words, these patients cannot act or speak for themselves or in addition, respond to much stimulus.
Personal experience and opinion may be a factor that weighs heavily on the issue of euthanasia, but the real substance comes from the facts. The legal ramifications play a major role in the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia began with its roots in both the Hippocratic tradition and the Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of life, Western medicine has long opposed the practice of physician-assisted suicide. However, the controversy over euthanasia is not new. Beginning in about 1870 (after the introduction of chloroform and ether) and continuing in today’s society, euthanasia is still a hot topic of discussion. Ohio is the only state in the United States of America that does not explicitly prohibit euthanasia by jurisdiction of the federal law.
After interviewing Dr. Caleb Dimitrivich, an oncologist, who most directly works with terminally ill patients at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, it is easy to see that he definitely opposes euthanasia. Doctors have real difficulty dealing with death. “Dying is something that I, as doctor, am trying to prevent. If a patient is terminally ill, I strive to make that patients life as comfortable as I possibly can,” says Dr. Dimitrivich. After reading, Matters of Life and Death,” by Professor Lewis Wolpert, one is reminded by the’ “doctors attitude” towards dying patients. Wolpert is a professor of biology and how teaches how biology is applied to medicine “Dying is something patients are not allowed to do. It is an affront to so go against the doctor’s efforts and advice, and this is completely understandable but cannot be the basis for not helping a patient die” (Wolpert 42).
The religious community has taken a negative stance on the issue of euthanasia. The majority of Christian religions ban the application of euthanasia to the terminally ill or PVS patients. In the bible, one can read about the absolute sin of taking another human being’s life, it is iniquitously wrong. After interviewing Maryanne Chapman who is a practicing member of the Catholic faith and who has also worked as a secretary for 15 years at St. Valerie of Ravenna in Clinton Township, MI, her opposition to legalized euthanasia is very clear. “It is a crime against God to end a life,” states Chapman. However, Maryanne is 72 years old and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also makes the comment, “people don’t live on machines, so therefore why should we die on them, God didn’t intend for that.” Basically what Mrs. Chapman is trying to say is that for patients suffering with a PVS, it is also a sin to try to sustain a life that has no purpose or function in society.
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