¶ … euthanasia, including whether to legalize it or not. Today, euthanasia is one of the most controversial and emotional issues in the medical field because of arguments for and against the practice. It is the practice of ending a life in order for terminal patients to escape incurable diseases and intolerable suffering. Doctors have saved the lives of many patients with the latest discoveries in medical care; however, they are still unable to cure all illnesses, and many patients will suffer as a result. Euthanasia is illegal in almost every state in the union, but some say lawmakers should legalize it, because it releases severe pain from dying, and is really a matter of choice for the patient and their family.
First, it is important to define euthanasia. The word euthanasia actually comes from the Greek language, where it means "good death." Euthanasia is the practice of purposely ending a person's life when they are suffering and have no chance of survival. A "good death" can be seen as physically and mentally escaping from intolerable suffering, while a "bad death" is killing on purpose. Those are the definitions for many people, but euthanasia actually includes many different meanings - as far as the moral, ethical, and religious terms are considered. For some, euthanasia could never be considered, while for others, it is the only option for terminally ill patients who have no hope of survival. Euthanasia came into the spotlight when Dr. Jack Kevorkian began assisting terminally ill patients with their own suicide, called "physician-assisted suicide," another term for euthanasia. One expert on the topic writes, "On Sunday night, November 22, 1998, viewers of the CBS television program 60 Minutes watched in horror as Dr. Jack Kevorkian killed fifty-two-year-old Thomas Youk" (Dowbiggin xi). Kevorkian went on to serve time in prison for his role in euthanizing patients, and one state, Oregon, has legislated physician-assisted suicide in some specific cases. The topic is controversial because many religious groups oppose euthanasia no matter what the circumstances, and many others approve of it after seeing friends and relatives suffer from terminal illnesses that have no hope of survival.
Many people believe that euthanasia began to make the headlines in the 1960s and 70s, but that is not the case. In reality, euthanasia has been a topic of debate for many decades, including most of the 20th century. Author Dowbiggin continues, "Euthanasia first became a topic of national controversy in 1915 when a Chicago surgeon refused to operate on a deformed baby and thus allowed it to die" (Dowbiggin xv). By the 1930s, the Euthanasia Society of America had formed, and support was growing for assisted suicide in many factions of society. Activists began working for euthanasia reform, and the public became much more aware of the topic. Support fell after World War II, and the issue was relatively stagnant through the 1960s. Support grew again in the 1970s and 80s, and with advocates like Dr. Kevorkian, it came into public debate again the 1990s. Today, the debate is still active, but it seems to have dropped in the public eye and not be such a big issue to many people. Still, euthanasia is only legal in Oregon today, and the topic continues to stir controversy and draw debate.
There are several different type of euthanasia. They include Passive, which accelerates death by removing life support and stopping medical care, Active, which causes death directly by injecting something such as sleeping pills. Then there is Voluntary, where the patient wants to end their suffering, and Involuntary, where the patient is euthanized without awareness and approval, and finally Assisted suicide, which is when the patient cannot commit the act themselves and a physician or other person helps them. Each of these types of euthanasia serve different purposes and are used at different stages in a person's illness. Of them all, involuntary is probably the most controversial, because the patient may not be aware of the process, or approve of it. In all the others, the patient is at least aware of the process and hopefully approves of it, as well.
As with any argument or controversial issue, there are many pros and cons to this ethical debate. The pros include...
Euthanasia can help some patients who might spend outrageous amounts of money on medical treatments that will do no good, as well. Euthanasia can also help reduce a patient's family and loved ones emotional and mental pain and suffering as they watch their loved one suffer. For most people the quality of life is more important than the length, and if they are suffering, the quality of life is extremely low. To simply exist to breathe with no other functions or awareness is simply meaningless, and many terminal patients are potential organ donors, so they could help save another life, adding meaning to their own death.
There are many negative aspects to euthanasia, as any opponents will state. A patient is not always terminal, there have been many records of miracles where patients survive and do not die. Many people object to euthanasia on moral and ethical terms, that it is just not right to take another person's life, regardless of the circumstances. There could be some people who use euthanasia imprudently or for the wrong reasons (like playing God), and there are many who object to it due to religious reasons (suicide is a sin, no matter what the reason).
There are arguments and positive comments for all of these pros and cons, of course. Anyone who has watched a person suffer from a serious disease or illness knows the pain and emotions that are involved. Personally, I saw my grandmother suffer from cancer, and the last six months of her life were terrible, with little quality of life at all. She suffered from severe pain and she was so drugged on morphine that she was not even aware of who was around her. I became a supporter of euthanasia after that experience, and I think that many other people have had the same experience and would support it if it ever came to the ballot, just as voters did in Oregon in 1997. The expert continues, "As society's traditional caregivers, women all too often have watched their spouses, parents, children, and friends die, and thus the notion of preventing unnecessary suffering has had special meaning for them" (Dowbiggin xvi). His point is that many women would support euthanasia after watching someone suffer, because the pain of being kept alive only to die is emotionally and physically wrenching, and that euthanasia is merciful for the patient, but for the family as well.
Another argument for euthanasia is that people who are suffering should be able to choose to end that suffering. In our country, we mercifully put thousands of pets "to sleep" every year to end their suffering from serious diseases and injuries. Another author notes, "Tens of thousands of animals are euthanized every day by means of this procedure, which has been used in the United States for more than sixty years" (Alper). We are merciful to our pets, but we are not merciful to each other, and that is puzzling. Human life is indeed precious, but there is no reason to prolong it when there is no treatment available and no hope for survival. Simply surviving, in pain and without meaning, is not really "surviving" at all, and people should be able to make the choice to end the suffering.
Supporters also point to the incredibly high cost of health care today as a reason to support euthanasia. Keeping a patient alive for days, weeks, or months can cost thousands of dollars, and often, families simply cannot afford the costs. Keeping someone alive in a vegetative or painful state, only to prolong their life and their suffering, is extremely expensive, and it is not in the best interests of the family, the patient, or good health care. Euthanasia could help save families outrageous health care costs that they cannot pay, and it would not prolong the suffering of the patient for no good reason. Thousands of people lie in nursing homes and other facilities, waiting to die, in poor health, with no hope of survival, and euthanasia would bring an end to their suffering and the suffering of their families.
Many would argue that euthanasia is not necessary because there are already "living wills," where people ask not to be kept alive if they are in a terminal or vegetative state. These living wills, also called advance directives, became extremely popular in the 1970s, as a way to stop prolonging life for people that were unable to speak for themselves. Basically, the living will is a legal form that tells the doctor not to prolong life in certain cases, and designates a friend or loved one as the health care decision maker. Many people…
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