Euthanasia is the practice of ending a person's life for the sole purpose of relieving the person's body from excruciating pain and suffering due to an incurable disease. The term euthanasia is often referred as mercy killing or the 'good death' as derived from the Greek. Euthanasia can be classified into four categories. In active euthanasia, a person's life is terminated by a doctor through a lethal dose of medication. Passive euthanasia implies non-provision of life-sustaining treatment to a patient based on logical reasoning or in other words doing nothing to save a person's life by abstaining to give life saving measures like putting a person on artificial respirator. Simple way of distinguishing active and passive form of euthanasia is a mere difference between act and omission. The other forms include voluntary euthanasia in which a person's consent is obtained for either active or passive euthanasia. Whereas non-voluntary euthanasia which refers to ending a person's life who is not mentally capable of taking any decision. (James Rachels, 1975, pp. 78-80)
Euthanasia had been initially accepted in the history. Greece and Romans permitted it in certain circumstances. However, with the arrival of religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, practices of euthanasia were morally and ethically rejected. Life was regarded as the gift of God and under no situation permitted its annihilation. Laws of modern societies also followed the general principles of religions. It was only in last century that active debates on euthanasia commenced to authenticate its legality and ethical righteousness.
Proponents of the issue started advocating the option of life and death as sole right of a human being. Alexander Capron, a renowned American lawyer propagates the concept by stating that I never want to wonder whether the physician coming into my hospital room is wearing the white coat of the healer or the black hood of the executioner. Opponents however strongly reject the idea highlighting its serious ramifications. Majority of people opposing the issue are overshadowed by religious ethos. In 1995, Pope John Paul II strongly opposed the idea by saying "Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person." Till to-date, most countries of the world including United States retain restrictions on some of the forms of euthanasia. (Msn Encarta)
Even in twenty first century, debate on euthanasia continues unabated. The issue is intricate and thought-provoking. If taking a person's life under suffering from unbearable pain is unethical then keeping the same person alive is inhumane. Arguments of opponents of the euthanasia are mostly based on personal believes. They are apprehensive that if euthanasia is legalized completely, it may result in its abuse for vested interests. At present, euthanasia in its passive form is being practiced in many countries. Active euthanasia is also a viable option if strict laws are enforced protecting against its misuse or abuse.
ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF EUTHANASIA
Some arbiters may prefer morality over reality. But at the same time, facts can not be totally ignored. Normal rules for morality are tested hard in such extreme scenarios, where deliberate ending of the life of a human being is decided. History reveals that killing a human is not always and essentially regarded as sin. It mostly depends on the situation. As far as euthanasia is concerned, there is a school of thought that supports its arguments in favor of both forms of euthanasia i.e., active and passive. To assess and analyze the true perspective of its proponents, few major arguments in its favor are highlighted below:
Argument -- 1 (To End Pain and Suffering). Life is a precious gift of God. It is a source of happiness and joy. It however sometimes may bring distress, suffering, sorrows and agony. Human body can sustain pain to certain limit. More-so, pain having no ending becomes unbearable. The proposition merely is that individuals, who are undergoing an incurable and fatal disease contributing to terrible and painful death, should be permitted through legislation to opt for quick and spontaneous death. Such individuals would have already lost any hope for life and instead of waiting for an agonizing ending of their lives they should be assisted in 'good death'. This argument stresses on need of relieving pain and suffering of individuals having no hope for betterment and that their sufferings are aggravated to that extent which is beyond their tolerance. (Bob Lane, 2005)
Argument- 2 (Autonomy and Self-Determination). This argument derives its strength from the fact that every human being enjoys the right of freedom and self-determination. Just imagine a person suffering an incurable disease or extreme debility which is associated with unbearable physical and mental strife, is he not entitled to decide what is best for him? Moreover, when he is sure that the medical science today is unable to cure his pain and his life is adding misery to people around him. The judgment of such a person should be respected. The proponents of the theory strive to convince that after all alternatives have been thoroughly considered, this person has the right to make a choice to live in suffering or to die. (Bob Lane, 2005)
Argument -- 3 (Doctrine of Double Effect).
This argument advocates that passive euthanasia which implies that withdrawing extra ordinary medical care to keep a person alive is more or less similar in nature to active euthanasia. Proponents went on to declare that no substantive ethical distinction persists between active euthanasia and its passive form. These are in fact the circumstances which dictate either an act will have good or bad effect. The doctrine of double effect basically implies that if doing something morally good has a morally bad side-effect it's ethically permissible to do it providing the bad side-effect wasn't intended. This argument confers that active euthanasia will bear same effects as that of passive euthanasia. Therefore, if passive euthanasia is deemed ethical then active euthanasia should also be allowed. Moreover there are no bad side-effects intended in active euthanasia as well. (The doctrine of double effects)
Argument -- 4 (Moral and Legal Legitimacy). Euthanasia made active pursuits of court rooms after the abortion was legalized. This argument propagates that there are cases in which the ending of human life by physicians is not only morally right, but an act of humanity. Its proponents claim that a recent poll reflects 80% in favor of allowing the people to choose 'assisted dying' by a doctor. The majority therefore proclaims acceptance of moral and ethical value of euthanasia in all its manifestations. (The Guardian, 2004)
OBJECTIONS TO PERMISIBILITY OF EUTHANASIA
There is a school of thought having serious disagreements with the arguments in favor of euthanasia. Opponents of voluntary euthanasia have tried to counter it in a variety of ways. These objections try to undermine the moral case for euthanasia. Few of these counter arguments in reply to arguments listed in favor of euthanasia are appended below. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Objection -- 1. Medical science is progressing at a rapid pace. We are getting better and better in provision of medical care to the patients. More-so, it is possible that a person may not be diagnosed properly. Therefore, argument of killing people for the sake of relieving them from pain and suffering is superfluous. The person in pain and suffering should be administered palliative care to reduce his suffering instead of ending a human life.
Objection -- 2.
The argument of giving right to the person of choosing his death is totally immoral and unethical. This school of thought states that we can never be sure of a person's state of mind in which he is making a decision to let the doctors kill him. Is this person capable of making such a decision, well not? More-over there will be a lot of external forces effecting his decision. Therefore, giving a person right to choose his death when he is not competent enough to make a valid decision is nothing but absurdity.
Objection -- 3.
The doctrine of double effect argument is invalid in this case since the bad consequences are more serious and out weigh the good effects. The objection highlights that a bad thing can not be morally and ethically acceptable even if it is done with good intents. Moreover, for the doctrine to be relevant here, the bad results must not be the means of attaining the good one. The doctrine of double effect does not apply if the only way the drug relieves the patient's pain is by killing him. Opponents of the case therefore state that the proponent's argument based on the doctrine of double effect is invalid.
Objection -- 4.
This objection is to the argument of granting legal status to euthanasia. The opponents propagate the theory of 'slippery slope' in case the euthanasia is legally permitted in any form. The objection states that if we accept or legalize any form of euthanasia that will…