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Special Issues Related To Death And Dying - Euthanasia

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

image by Mat Hampson (lic)Physician Assisted Euthanasia and General Assisted Euthanasia

Euthanasia, when one person helps another end his or her life, is currently a very controversial topic in many locations. In physician-assisted euthanasia, a medical doctor provides assistance; in general assisted euthanasia, the person can be a family member, friend, coworker, etc.

Euthanasia typically occurs through two primary methods:

  • The administration of a high dose of a medication that causes the person to become unconscious very quickly and then shuts down organs and brain functioning
  • The shutting off of machines that are sustaining life, such as a breathing machine, feeding tube, etc.

People who believe that euthanasia should be legalized typically use the following arguments:

  • People should have the ability to choose when and how they die
  • Quality of life is more important than quantity - if someone is in considerable pain, or is severely disabled, he or she should have the ability to decide that life is no longer worth living
  • The dying person should have the right to choose the path of his or her life in the final months or days
  • If a dying person has decided to end his or her own life, physicians or those close to the person should be able to provide support and assistance
  • Euthanasia will occur, so it is better to legalize and regulate the methods that are already secretly being used to assist people in dying
  • Part of a physician's oath includes taking all measures necessary to relieve suffering; in some cases, death is the only way to end suffering

However, there are also many arguments against legalizing this practice, which typically include the following:

  • A dying person who wants to continue living could be directly or indirectly convinced by others around them, such as family or caregivers, to end his or her life. This situation can occur when the financial costs or the emotional drain on the family would end if the person would simply choose death (a "benefit for the greatest number of people", or "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one" type of philosophical argument).
  • A guardian or caregiver for a person that is unable to make his or her own decisions (e.g. a person with a developmental disorder or who is unconscious) may choose euthanasia against the person's wishes.
  • People should respect life and realize that killing another human being is ethically wrong, even if the person has given his or her consent.
  • It is not up to us to choose who lives or dies; this decision is reserved for a higher power.
  • If a person's life is terminated and the family later learns that there were additional treatments that could have been utilized, or that a mistake in diagnosis was made, malpractice suits will increase.
  • Insurance companies and researchers would no longer focus on making palliative and hospice care more affordable and effective; instead, research would focus on saving money through better, more efficient ways to speed death.
  • A physician has to duty to heal his or her patients; the Hippocratic oath (traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ethical practice of medicine) includes the following statement, ".To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death."
  • There is a slippery slope; using euthanasia with terminally ill patients could lead to assisted death in less clear-cut cases, such a person with a disability who doesn't want to live any longer, or a person who is having a difficult or emotional time and wants to end his or her life, or a person who is simply very old, etc. In other words, society could quickly get to a position where we are assisting people to die for reasons that do not include a terminal diagnosis.

Euthanasia is is highly emotional topic which engenders strong feelings on both sides. It is currently unclear whether euthanasia will become increasingly restricted or popular in the future.


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