Legislation on terminally ill patients

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Legislation on terminally ill patients

            In the essay, A crime of Compassion by Barbara Huttmann, she talks about her experience as a nurse. She studied nursing administration and upon completion, she co-founded a consulting firm for hospitals and other consumers. Although she had taken care of many patients, one of her unique cases that were highlighted on the newspaper, Newsweek involved a patient named Mac. Mac was a police officer who was diagnosed with lung cancer. In a short while, Mac had degenerated from a healthy police officer to a bedridden man. Within six months, Mac had lost most of the organs and depended on life-support. He fed and drank off tubes that were connected to machines. Whenever Mac stopped breathing, an emergency team was rushed in to resuscitate him. After many similar attempts to revive him, Mac begged the hospital team to let him dies peacefully, and one day while on duty, Barbara deliberately withheld from calling the emergency team when Mac stopped breathing and then he died.

The action by Barbara to grant the patient the request to be allowed to die peacefully, instead of depending on life-supporting machines, triggered uproars by citizens who rebuked her for letting a man die under hospital care. Most of the watchers and audience at the talk show reprimanded Barbara for letting Mac die. This is because certain people believe that life should be preserved at all costs. In conforming to this belief, they agree that any patient should be assisted in any way possible to ensure that they survive. The primary objective of the hospital staff is to preserve the lives of human beings. In this situation, Nurse Barbara should have done whatever was possible to lengthen the life of Mac until the last moment. According to them, failure to do so can be considered an intentional choice to let someone die and, therefore unacceptable and unethical.

In the essay, Barbara claims “…we resuscitated him fifty-two times in just one month. I refused to resuscitate him again. I simply sat there and held his hand while he died…” Similar reports of doctors and nurses who have left their patients to die naturally while there were still options left for them have been reported across many hospitals. This has always been pegged on the difficulty in managing critically ill patients and the need to free up beds and machinery. Most of the patients would, however get relief from this procedure, as most of them have been rendered physically and mentally useless. Most of them cannot perform any normal functions such as talking, moving or thinking. At this point, it would beat all logic to allow such a patient to continue suffering and offering a natural death would come as a relief. In the essay, the patient had lost most of the control over his body and was slowly degenerating ad would have eventually died.

Barbara Huttmann, in her essay, pointed out the key dilemma that exists within the health sector of either choosing to maintain a terminally ill patient for as long as they can be sustained by machines, or choosing to let them die naturally. Her actions were guided by the reasoning that critically ill patients, such as Mac, have lost most of their organs to allow them to live a comfortable life. Claiming that using euthanasia to end the lives of such patients is wrong, would not be entirely moral if the very patients had lost the will to continue living. Barbara herself experienced her patient Mac expressing his wish to die a natural death. He had begged Barbara, and the rest of the staff to remove the life support, but the hospital had refused. Barbara argued that she had simply given the dying man his wish.

            Prior cases involving terminally ill patients who have been taken off life, support have reinforced the idea that it is ethically acceptable to end the life of human beings. The justice system has made it possible for the immediate family to sue the hospital for the rights to terminate medical care that doctors wanted to impose on their patients. The verdicts by the courts gave the families the authority to order hospitals to unplug the machinery that supported the patients. This evidence, from a legal point of view, reinforces that fact that, in some cases, it was acceptable to end the life of a suffering patient who would not recover from a terminal condition (Huttmann 28).

It can be considered acceptable for doctors to determine when to switch of life support for a terminally ill patient. This is because they possess the medical experience, knowledge and skill to know when a patient is undergoing more pain when they cannot clearly survive the condition in the end. Regular citizens have not right to demand managed care of their patients, when their demands are evaluated by medical professionals and considered inappropriate.

Argument against euthanasia

            The process of ending a patients’ life when they have become terminally ill cannot be termed in any way ethical. The most valid reason that most medical practitioners give is that the procedure is recommended for doctors who diagnose a patient whose death is imminent. However, procedures such as the Liverpool Care Pathway that end patients’ lives before their time bring up further questions, such as, who has the power to decide when to end the life of a human being? Patients and doctors have disagreed over the usage of these methods to end the life of terminally ill people, with patients and other consumers arguing that this violates the patients’ rights, as well as being a mockery of God’s role in the world.

The decision to take away the life of a patient even with their consent displays unethical behavior on the part of the medical staff. The key role or the hospital staff is to keep people alive for as long as possible. Going against this objective presents a violation of the medical ethics as well as moral ethics. Furthermore, the action to use euthanasia is not humane and violates the patient’s dignity. These patients have persevered for long periods with terminal diseases, such as cancer and AIDS, only for them to be professionally killed by the same people who are responsible for maintaining life. The very thought of a doctor ending a life is in itself unprofessional.

Although most doctors who recommend euthanasia for terminally ill patients use legal and ethical reasons to justify their actions, most of their reasons are not valid enough. Before the development of these policies and Acts of parliament that defined voluntary ending of a life of a patient, the prevailing medical ethic was to attempt any possible procedure to ensure that patients were kept alive for as long as possible. The life of every individual is very important and maintaining it is the doctors and nurses role. The real reason for ending lives prematurely boils down to cost containment by families and medical institutions. People want to cut down costs so they choose to end lives of terminally ill patients.


            Medical practitioners argue that when people voluntary choose to die, the patient’s autonomy is respected, and their life supporting machines would be switched off. However, when a patient expresses a desire to live, their choice is not necessarily accepted as final. Providing health care to people who do not benefit from it is also demoralizing to the hospital staff. When it is evident that the remaining life of a patient shall be spent in agony, it would be better to end their lives rather than prolong it. This is because most terminal conditions end up with death and in my opinion; such cases should be taken off the life support system and be allowed to die naturally. In that way, their death will not be postponed. They will also be presenting lesser costs to the hospitals as well as providing space for other patients.

Work Cited

Huttmann Barbara. Crime Of Passion. Accessed on 3 September 2012. Retrieved from http://essaymania.com/56330/crime-of-passion-by-barbara-huttmann

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