Modern attitudes towards Euthanasia

Posted: September 6th, 2013






Modern attitudes towards Euthanasia


Euthanasia is the deliberate termination of a patient’s life by a doctor with the intention to relieve suffering or intractable pain. Euthanasia is also referred to as mercy killing. Euthanasia is applicable where the patient is suffering from a terminal disease that causes them much pain and suffering and loss of dignity. It is also applicable where the patient is kept alive by artificial support. This is where he is awake but unaware of the surrounding or of the self (Synder, 2006). In this case, the patient has no brain functions as the artificial life support consisting of respirators, intravenous nutrition and heart-lung machines are what keep him going.

Classification of euthanasia       

It is classified in three different categories these being; voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed with the patient’s consent (Synder, 2006). This can include passive euthanasia that involves withholding treatments supporting the continuation of life from the patient. The other form of voluntary euthanasia is active voluntary euthanasia that involves injection of lethal substances in a patient consequently leading to their end of life. Non-voluntary euthanasia is illegal worldwide as there is unavailability of the patient’s consent. The basis of these categories is on whether the patient gives consent upon clear understanding of the facts, implications and the consequences involved. The concerned individual must have adequate reasoning capacity (Torr, 2000). In the case that the involved party is not able to give informed consent, an example being a person in a coma, then another person in his authority is allowed to make the consent on his behalf, for example the parents.

History of euthanasia

The ancient Greeks and Romans, who termed it as good killing, practiced euthanasia. It was supported by Socrates in Athens, Plato and Seneca where the hemlock was employed. It was generally accepted by three Asian traditions that are Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. However, three monotheistic religions, i.e., Islam, Judaism and Christianity rejected the act as it translated to disrespect of human life (Synder, 2006). In the 16th and 17th century, euthanasia faced opposition however; its practice was not halted. Euthanasia was however recognized by a historian N. D. A. Kemp in the year 1870 with contemporary debates on its use rising. Here it was noted that doctors were not involved in the debates hence it was a philosophical debate relying on religious doctrines on the sanctity of human life.

In 1891, Felix Alder argued that terminal illness victims undergoing intractable suffering should be allowed to commit suicide with the aid of a medical practitioner. He was the first prominent American to speak up for euthanasia. The first attempt to legalize euthanasia was in 1906 but it was defeated in the General Assembly of Ohio (Torr, 2000). The second attempt was still in Ohio still in the same year but was rejected. In 1930s, there were debates in Britain with the rise of the Euthanasian Legalization Society (Torr, 2000). Proponents of euthanasia based their arguments on the arguments that individual’s had a right of self-determination, assistance of death was better than an individual’s continued suffering and that euthanasia permission do not necessarily lead to unacceptable circumstances.

Today’s law on euthanasia worldwide

The legality of euthanasia differs in different countries where non-voluntary euthanasia is illegal in all countries and involuntary euthanasia is considered murder and is a criminal offense in all countries. Voluntary euthanasia can be categorized into active voluntary and passive voluntary euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is legal in Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg while active euthanasia is legal in the United States (Torr, 2000). Euthanasia is generally classified as criminal homicide in the American Law West Encyclopedia with the definition holding in many countries (Synder, 2006). However, there are two designations relating to homicide that are accepted by law hence not punishable those being active and passive voluntary euthanasia. Legalization of euthanasia is based upon the argument that each individual is entitled to freedom of choice and therefore is at liberty to enact their decisions so long as their decisions do not infringe upon the rights of other individuals (Torr, 2000).

Why euthanasia is a moral question

Euthanasia is a practice that makes life dispensable as one has a right to end his life hence narrowing the line on the acceptance of suicide by the society. Doctors oath requires of them to use all means in their capability to ensure preservation of life hence practice of euthanasia results in the question of what preservation of life really is, making the oath a hypocritical one (Synder, 2006). Euthanasia affects human life, as there is a voluntary ending of this life hence is a moral issue affecting the humans and the society as a whole and should be addressed. Morally, life is precious and the sanctity of life should be maintained at all times an action that euthanasia does not support.



Euthanasia and ethics

Euthanasia affects the discipline of ethics in many ways hence is a subject that should be addressed. In ethics, the different normative theories play a role in the practice of euthanasia. The deontological theory explains that the action is what justifies an end. Based on this theory deontology emphasizes that one ought to perform the duty they have towards another therefore doctors being bound by laws towards the patient are bound to performing those duties. Therefore, if a medical practitioner is in a country where euthanasia is legal they have a duty to perform euthanasia to a patient if the patient consents to it.

Virtue ethics is yet another theory that is in contrast with the action of euthanasia as it insists that the moral characteristics of the action is what counts. It focuses on the inherent character of an individual rather than the consequence of the action. Therefore, under this theory, euthanasia is not permissible as it shows disregard of the human life (Torr, 2000).

Critical response to euthanasia

Euthanasia leads to disrespect of human life hence it is unethical. Based on the religious aspect of ethics, euthanasia is not allowed in all monotheistic religions, as it is believed that only the creator has the right to take life, as He is the one who gives it hence those who practice euthanasia are playing God (Synder, 2006). Based on Christian ethics, humanity has reverence for life hence ending life shows a lack of respect for it and is morally wrong. The ethical impact of euthanasia can be explained using the teleological theories that focuses on an action that is appropriate to man in regards to its consequence. Hence based on the teleological theory the focus is cultivation of virtue such as justice, hope and love.

Therefore basing our actions on this theory, euthanasia goes against the moral of this theory as leads to the hastening of an individuals death showing a disregard and disrespect of life (Torr, 2000). Arguing the sanctity of life from the biological perspective the life of an individual marks the completion of an evolution cycle of millions of years and with every one being uniquely coded in their DNA no individual person can be duplicated (Synder, 2006). Sanctity of life being argued from a sociological point indicates that every person is given an equal amount of value in society for being human and undertaking the decision to terminate life underscores an individual’s social value.

Another reason that makes euthanasia not to be a wise decision is the large number of patients who recover after being written off by the doctors; hence, one can never be too sure of the terminality of a person’s medical condition. Instead of legalization of euthanasia, more and better facilities for taking care of the terminally ill should be put up, lowering their suffering and leading to preservation of life (Synder, 2006).

According to the supporters of euthanasia, it is ethically correct based on the utilitarianism theory, which holds that an action is right if it leads to the happiness of the greatest number of people. Therefore if the performance of euthanasia leads to the overall happiness of most peoples it should be performed according to this theory. However, there is no way that death of an individual can lead to the happiness of people under any circumstance hence this justification does not hold much weight. Situation ethics is another theory that supporters of euthanasia use to justify the practice. It justifies an action based on the situation therefore, one is bound to act in relation to the situation they find themselves (Torr, 2000). Basing the argument on this theory, performance of euthanasia will be dependent on the situation leading to the most appropriate result. However based on morality, we cannot rely on a situation to determine our actions hence the fact of justifying euthanasia based on the patient’s medical condition is morally wrong and should not be relied upon.

Works Cited

Snyder, Carrie L. Euthanasia. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Print.

Torr, James D., Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Print.

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