Euthanasia, also known as mercy killing or assisted suicide, is a very controversial subject. Is it morally right to end our own lives, or ask someone to help us end our own lives? Is it morally right to legalize euthanasia?
Multiple polls have shown that most adult Americans are in favor of legalizing euthanasia and giving patients the right to die. Some of the arguments for allowing people to have the right to die are very persuasive. In America, it is legal for a patient to refuse medical care and be allowed to die. Why then is it any different for a patient to ask to be killed in a humane painless manner? "If people have the right to choose how to live,why should they not also have the freedom to choose how to die?" (Beauchamp. 72 79) What makes the act of active euthanasia wrong but letting them die is both morally and legally permissible? Most would argue that letting someone die is the act of letting nature take its course. This is a flawed argument because if someone from the mafia comes into a hospital and unplugs a key witness or a prosecuting police officer from a ventilator and they die, then the person from the mafia killed the police officer, even though, he let nature "take it's course." (Beauchamp. 72 79)
So, there must be a different distinction between letting die and active euthanasia. This would be the fact that the doctor who performs euthanasia would have written consent from the person who wishes to be left to die with no resuscitation; where as, the person in the mafia would not have that authorization. (Beauchamp. 72 79) Why is this any different than asking to be killed if you believe that living any longer is much worse than dying with your dignity today? It's not. Having the option to euthanasia does not mean that a physician must honor your request. If a physician were to feel uncomfortable with performing euthanasia, then they would not be forced to do so. From a moral standpoint, killing someone is wrong when it was done in order to hurt that person. Euthanasia, however, is done in order to help a person, or bring about some benefit that they feel is necessary. If we believe that letting someone die because they refuse treatment is moral and doesn't violate
someone's rights, then how can we say that active euthanasia violates that same persons rights. Both of these decisions are made with the same goal in mind. They are active decisions to not continue on in life and just because the means are different, the result is the same. (Beauchamp. 72 79)
When we have an animal that is sick and dying in pain, we generally see "putting the animal out of its misery" as the most humane thing to do, if there is nothing else that can be done. This is because we don't want our animals to live out their last days writhing in pain and agony for the last few days, weeks or even months of it's life. But, it is illegal to put a person "out of their misery," even if it is their deepest desire to end their life on their own terms. Here there is no question to whether or not they want their life to be terminated, where there is question with an animal because they can't explicitly tell us that they would like to end their lives.
There are also some compelling arguments to why euthanasia should be illegal and is immoral. I'll begin by mentioning some common religious reasons, mainly that life if a gift given to you by god and that by ending your own life, you are throwing that gift back in his face and disrespecting him. This is along the same lines as the religious judgment on suicide. These arguments are very poor since they are rooted in belief and faith and not in reason. There are some convincing arguments however that is very reasonable. When someone is in the circumstance to need to request euthanasia, their judgment and will is probably clouded and impaired. If euthanasia were made legal, then it would become a viable and presented option to someone who was dying. They then may make the decision to die, not out of their best interests, or because they want to, they may choose euthanasia because they don't want to be a burden on their loved ones. (Velleman. 81 90) One thing that Velleman states that sums this up very well is "is this the kind of choicethat we want to offer a gravely ill person? We will not sweep up, in the process, some who are not really tired of life, but think others are tired of them? Will not some feel an obligation to have themselves eliminated?" (Beauchamp. 72 79) Also, having options is not always desirable. If there is a party that you really don't want to go to, but you are invited, then it would be harder to say no, than to just not go because you
weren't invited. So, by offering euthanasia, you remove the patients right to live by default. You are for the first time asking a patient to view their existence as their choice and their decision. This will make them responsible for that decision and you may feel as though you would have to justify living at all. Also, there may be family members that pressure someone into taking the option of euthanasia for their own benefit. (Beauchamp. 72 79)
Another, more popular, objection to euthanasia is the slippery slope argument. If we make it legal for doctors to start killing their patients based on their patients request, we open the floodgates to slowly have doctors murdering their patients. Or, if a patient is miss diagnosed with a disease, kills himself because of it and then it is discovered that he doesn't have that disease at all, it would be a terrible tragedy and the person along with their family would have suffered a great and tragic loss.
All of these are good arguments and give great strength to the stance of keeping euthanasia illegal. Before this paper I strongly believed that euthanasia should be legal but the arguments about people being pressured into euthanasia or feeling guilty for living were very convincing to me. They were not, however, convincing enough to get me to change my mind about how I feel about euthanasia and that it should be legal and morally acceptable.
The biggest problem that I have with the arguments that people will feel guilty for wanting to live, or that people will be pressured into accepting euthanasia, is that it doesn't put enough faith in humanity and the will to live. If a person really wants to live, then they will not accept euthanasia no matter how pressured they are. We have already shown in this country that euthanasia can be performed without problems. In fact, euthanasia is legal in the state of Oregon and has been successful. There has been no slippery slope effect and the general population seems to be very happy with the law. I, not only support a law like the one in Oregon, where you must be terminally ill and only given six more months to live, I support an even more liberal law like the one in Holland. The only thing that I would change is that I would make the ages a little older for needing parental consent. I think someone who is, for example, paralyzed from the neck down and believes that they no longer have any quality of life and believe that they would be better off not existing rather than live in the state they are in, should have the option to die if they so choose. The slippery slope objection to euthanasia is completely ridiculous because if you write the law properly, you can create very strict guidelines and eliminate any chance for someone to take advantage of the law and misuse it.
La Follet, Hugh. Euthanasia,
Blackwell Publishing, 2007
Beauchamp, Tom L. Justifying Physician-Assisted Deaths, Blackwell Publishing, 2007
Velleman, J. David. Against the Right to Die, Blackwell Publishing, 2007
Harris Interactive (2007), http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=561
death with dignity law (2007)