Euthanasia, from the Greek word meaning “good death”, is the practice of assisted suicide with the intention of relieving pain and suffering. Euthanasia is also known as mercy killing or physician assisted suicide. Like all things that deal with life and death, it has been a controversial subject of debate due to its seeming infringement of a person’s fundamental right to live. As a law, voluntary euthanasia is accepted in some countries, including some states in the United States and provinces in Canada. Euthanasia is also one of the most actively researched and debated subjects in modern bioethics. Surveys taken in the United States indicate that an estimated 46% of physicians agree that voluntary euthanasia should be allowed for certain situations, with 41% disagreeing altogether and 14% believe it to be circumstantial. Below are the key arguments for euthanasia, which highlight why it is our right as human beings as well as the benefits it presents.
10. People have the right to die
Often, the discussion revolves around the right to life; anti-euthanasia proponents argue that euthanasia infringes on a person’s fundamental right to live. What they fail to see is that our “life” as human beings implies death. Without death, we do not have “human life” by its very definition. Like black and white or two sides of a coin, human life cannot occur without death. Therefore for those that argue that every man has the fundamental right to live, they unknowingly also agree that every man has the fundamental right to die.
Because we can determine the course of our lives by our own will, we have the right to live our lives and determine our own course.Naturally it follows that the same self-determining capacity we have as human beings also gives us the fundamental right to determine how we die. It is also important to consider that the right to life has no say over the right to die. The right to live and the right to die are two separate, although related rights. They are also mutually exclusive in the sense that the right to live concerns itself only with self-determined life and ends with the right to die. The right to die on the other hand begins where life ends in death.
While you live, you exercise your right to life; when your life ends, you exercise your right to die. It is important to consider that we refer to self-determined or natural death and not death resulting from someone directly removing from you your life, thereby restricting your right to live. If such significant weight in this sense is given to our right to live, should we not also give equal weight to our right to die.
9. People have the explicit right to choose.
Beyond the philosophical implications of man’s right to live or die lies man’s explicit and fundamental right to choose. Everything is touched by this explicit right, from what you will have for breakfast to what you will believe, what your opinions are and what you do with your life. The society that man has built is founded on this very right, and evolves because our inherent nature is explored.Regardless of the outcome, no one can question our right to free will. The right to choose is fundamental and applies to all elements of “human life”, which by the nature of human life, includes the right to choose how you die. As an example, a terminally ill individual who is currently under significant pain may choose to die with dignity, as is his right. To deny him this is to deny him his personal autonomy and is an act that is trespassing on his humanity. While concepts such as dignity are defined by social majority, an individual, possessing all the rights of a human being, may perceive a dignified death to be preferable to constant suffering. He may decide on euthanasia, and this choice should be available to him.Very simply, this is his right to choose, as equally as he made his choices when faced with circumstances in life. It cannot be questioned should he decide to act on it. In the case of euthanasia, we simply request assistance to facilitate this right of choosing how to exit this world.
8. Euthanasia is not immoral
For something to be immoral, it would have to violate moral laws or norms. The argument of anti-euthanasia proponents is that euthanasia is immoral because life must be preserved and protected. The preservation of life is, however, subject to the self-determined choice of the person and not the choice of the physician.As an example, murder infringes on a person’s right to life by taking away the element of choice in the persons death.
No infringement is done when it is the person who chooses how to die. For a physician to deny the person his right to die when under intense pain and suffering is effectively forcing them to live a life without what they believe is their dignity, a life of suffering and eventual death (in the case of terminally ill patients). While the intentions may be good, no person has the right to demand of another person to live a life of suffering, in fact, that is immoral as it removes their right to choose. Euthanasia facilitates the choice making it in fact the compassionate choice and sympathetic to that person’s dignity. It is also important to note that those that argue to preserve life despite the patient being terminally ill and in extreme pain are usually not the patients themselves and therefore removed from the consequences of the decision.
Self-determination is one of the key elements that make us human.It is the ability to determine our destiny as individuals and is facilitated by our ability to think for ourselves. Imagine a life where an illness has left you incapable of conducting the basics of life; you are unable to breathe, move or even think for yourself. You have effectively removed your ability to self-determine, arguably a significant element in being “human”. Our sense of “self” is created as we progress through life. We grow our personalities as human beings by our choices and experiences. This sense of self is the foundation of our human dignity.
Now, go back to the example of the person who can no longer breathe, move or even think for himself, and add the element of extreme and constant pain to the point where they prefer death to living this way. Over time, because of this experience, the person will eventually lose sight of their “self”, when they could move around, form opinions and self determine. This will all be a distant memory, and the most real thing to them will be the constant state of pain they are in. They won’t even be able to cry out in pain despite the pain. Seem far-fetched? Consider Tony Nicklinson, whose bid for euthanasia was rejected multiple times. Tony Nicklinson was diagnosed with a disease that prevented him from moving any and all muscles in his body. After his bid was denied, he decided to starve himself to death, which took a week without food.
Another example is Kelly Taylor who starved herself for 19 days trying to die. Without the option of euthanasia, their quality of life will continue to deteriorate the same way Tony and Kelly had endured. They will eventually die, but in what state? Will they go out in a state of dignity? Euthanasia can provide them with the opportunity to finish their life keeping their human dignity intact.
6. Euthanasia does not harm to others
Because people will naturally have different interests, it is not uncommon to have conflicts of interest. When conflicts arise, it is the goal of civilized society and the state to ensure the resolution of conflicts without the infringement of fundamental human rights.These rights are protected above all others and their infringement is punished severely. That being said, euthanasia as a choice infringes on no such fundamental rights. Death by its nature is a private affair. Assisted suicide (as is the case of euthanasia) involves direct harm and the termination of life only to the individual who has requested it. One cannot request euthanasia for another “competent” person. If this is the case, it will then be a question of murder instead. The process of euthanasia does not restrict or infringe on anyone’s fundamental rights and therefore does no harm.
5. Euthanasia is properly regulated
Those who oppose euthanasia often cite the horror stories of patients being euthanized without consent or for unethical or impure reasons. Granted, the history of euthanasia is not without its fair share of horror stories and because of the gravity of its practice, it does need to be regulated. However, this is not reason enough to say that it cannot be properly regulated. Developed nations like the Netherlands have legalized euthanasia and have had only minor problems from its legalization. Any law or system can be abused, but that law and system can always be refined to prevent such abuse from happening. In the same way, it is possible to properly and effectively regulate euthanasia as various first world countries have done. More so because the process of euthanasia itself as it is being argued here, requires competent consent from the patient. It is important to consider the protection of both the physicians as well as the patients. The critical element in the regulation of euthanasia will be determining the line between what is considered to be euthanasia and what is considered to be murder.
4. Everyone has a right to a good death, therefore a good death must not be denied to those who want one
Nobody thinks of their death and desires it to be extremely painful or horrible. Rational human beings desire a good, dignified end to an ideally long and fruitful life. Circumstance, like luck, may not always be in your favor. It may not even be a terminal disease, which is so frequently used in pro-euthanasia arguments. It can be as savage as a freak accident or as simple as falling down the stairs to put you in a world of excruciating pain. While this is never to be wished on anyone, for those that have had the misfortune of being diagnosed with a terminal or painfully debilitating disease must have a choice out of it. Do we, who so desire a good death, have the right to judge others’ state when we know nothing of it? Do we have the right to compare their experiences day by day, having experienced none of them, and say that they don’t deserve to die with dignity, the way they want to die? The answer is of course, no, we have no right to deny them the dignified death that we ourselves naturally desire. To do so would be selfish and we would effectively be imposing our own desires on that person, thereby restricting their freedom to self-determine even if it is in the most basic sense.
3. Euthanasia does not shorten lifespans by as much as is portrayed
Many arguments opposing euthanasia are based on the premise that the patient’s life should be preserved because of the possibility of their recovery. Statistics however, paint a different picture. A Dutch survey conducted in 1991 showed that 86% of Euthanasia cases only shortened the life of the patient by a maximum of 1 week. The standard time it shortened their life was by a few hours only. This clearly shows that terminal illness is statistically terminal. Add in the fact that in the majority of these cases, the patients were in extreme agony, the numbers show you that terminally ill patients are using euthanasia to end the suffering where they would have had near impossible chances of recovery. This is not the same as the ideal painted by opponents of euthanasia, wherein the patient may have a chance to survive and make a miraculous recovery. It is because the numbers are so heavily indicative of euthanasia as an out for terminally ill patients in terrible agony that it must be allowed as an option to end their suffering.
2. Euthanasia saves lives
Sound shocking? Consider this: a 2005 study of euthanasia in the Netherlands found that 0.4% of all euthanasia was done without consent from the patient. By the time this study was done, euthanasia had been legalized in the Netherlands. Now consider another study done in 1991 which was done before euthanasia was legalized which indicated that 0.8% of euthanasia done in the Netherlands was done without the patients consent. This shows that the legalization of euthanasia actually had the reverse of the expected effect and cut the unacceptable practice of no consent euthanasia in half. By these numbers, euthanasia has in fact saved lives since it now provides a protected and regulated framework with which doctors must first obtain explicit consent before conducting euthanasia. This same framework makes it more difficult and less grey for those seeking to perform euthanasia with impure or irresponsible intentions.
1. The Hippocratic oath supports euthanasia
Most people misinterpret the Hippocratic oath as being against euthanasia. The key element of the oath is that the physician must protect the wellbeing of their patient, hence the maxim “do no harm” commonly interpreted to be a summation of the oath. Most interpretations of the “harm” element are however taken to literally refer to the patient’s life. It can be argued that harm in this case refers to the wellbeing of the patient, which includes his life.However in cases where it is a choice between intense suffering or death, it can be argued that the physician is doing more harm to the patient by not allowing them to die. While this argument can go either way, updated interpretations of the Hippocratic oath do include a segment that concerns taking life as well as preserving it:
“Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.”
–Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University
From a philosophical aspect, man seems to have some pathological fear of death, so much so that he views intense suffering, until he is actually suffering himself, as preferable to death. Such fear of death tends to create a mythical status of death in our minds that we often forget that to die is also to exist as a human being.
It is the finite nature of our lives brought about by the immovable and inevitable wall of death that gives every second of our time spent on this earth its most powerful purity. Death, like life exists as part of our cycle of human existence.