Euthanasia is a serious political, moral and ethical issue in today’s society. Most people either strictly forbid it or firmly favor euthanasia. Although, I have no political background or confirmed religion, I choose to formally educate myself on the matter of euthanasia. I feel very strongly about this issue because I am affected by the matter on an almost everyday basis. I am a patient care technician in an emergency room and also work on a cardiac unit in one of Michigan’s top 100 osteopathic hospitals. I’ve actually watched people in pain eventually die. I’ve had to listen to patients beg me to, “pull plugs,” and put pillows over their faces to smother them so they could die faster. Terminally ill patients have a fatal disease from which they will never recover. Euthanasia is when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his/her own life by participating in physician-assisted suicide. After reading the ten sources and extensively researching euthanasia, I still support and promote the legalization of euthanasia. I believe that all people deserve the right to die with dignity.
First of all, I would like to offer my own personal feelings and opinions on the matter of euthanasia because I actually have frequent contact with people who suffer with terminal illnesses. When I was a junior in high school I was offered the opportunity to explore my career options by pursuing advanced learning in the medical field. I attended regular high school for one half of the day, the other half of my day was spent in a nursing home (extended care facility), Port Huron Hospital and also at St. Clair Technology Center. I spent many hours studying medical terminology and proper body mechanics, I also learned how to take care of sick patients while promoting healthy life styles changes. Unfortunately the hardest lesson which was the how to take care of the terminally ill, while being supportive to their many physical, spiritual and emotional needs. I graduated from high school and proceeded to go to college in order to accomplish my goal of becoming a registered nurse. After graduation I moved into my own apartment and took a job at St. John’s Medical Center on an oncology/hospice unit.
I worked at St. John’s for 18 months. Hospice is where terminally ill patients are sent to be cared for during the last stages of their lives. Oncology is the study of tumors, but more specifically, it’s a term usually associated with some kind of cancer. Therefore, for about a year and a half I had to take care of dying patients. These people had a slim chance of surviving for over six months to a year. When my patients were suffering and in pain I had to smile and tell them, “Don’t worry everything will be all right.” We both knew that everything would no be all right and they had just wanted to die. I witnessed patients telling other members of the nursing staff how they had begged and pleaded with god to take their life due to the excruciating pain they were experiencing. The nurse just replied, “Oh sweetie, you shouldn’t say things like that.” I had patients who were so mean and cruel to staff, it was unreal. They were mad at life because they knew it would be taken away soon. I’ve watched patients who were fully coherent and self-sufficient upon admittance in to the hospital become totally confused and bed bound. I watched these people lose all motor skills, which left them crippled and unable to feed or bathe themselves, or even use the toilet. They had lost all of their dignity.
After reading Peter Singer and Mark Sielger’s, “Euthanasia-A Critique,” it is fair to say that these doctors have put forth a strong argument against euthanasia. Singer and Siegler are both medical doctors who are very proficient in their fields. Singer and Siegler make the point that, “the relief of pain and suffering is a crucial goal of medicine,” however, “euthanasia violates the fundamental norms and standards of traditional medicine” (Seyler 333& 335). When a person no longer has the choice of continuing a normal healthy life, unusual circumstances call for rare methods of treatment. Why should a person be tortured with the, “frightening prospect of dying shackled to a modern-day Procrustean bed, surrounded by the latest forms of high technology,” according to Singer and Siegler this is an adamant fear of many fatally ill patients (Seyler 333). Singer and Siegler make several good points in their essay, however, pain control seems to be the biggest issue facing the terminally ill as stated by the doctors. This is entirely untrue. People who are faced with a terminal illness experience just as much emotional turmoil as physical pain. When Singer and Siegler say, “physical pain can be relieved with the appropriate use of analgesic agents,” I am saddened because it has been my own personal experience to watch terminally ill patients become over medicated and drugged up so much that they are unable to think or act for themselves (Seyler 333). When a person can longer speak, think or act for him or herself, that person has been stripped of their dignity.
Sidney Hook’s, “In Defense of Voluntary Euthanasia,” was emotionally charged and very gripping. Sidney Hook is a philosopher, educator and author (Seyler 338). Hook has been so unfortunate as to have sampled death and was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He suffers with congestive heart failure, which one can live with but which if not treated or maintained properly will cause a painful death.
He offers his first hand account of meeting with the Grim Reaper:
I lay at the point of death. A congestive heart failure was treated for diagnostic purposes by an angiogram that triggered a stroke. Violent and painful hiccups, uninterrupted for several days and nights, prevented the ingestion of food. My left side and one of my vocal chords became paralyzed. Some form of pleurisy set in, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of slime. (338)
If this sharp use of imagery isn’t enough to make the reader understand this mans pain, maybe his next account will persuade one to rethink euthanasia, “At one point, my heart stopped beating; just as I lost consciousness, it was thumped back into action again. In one of my lucid intervals during those days of agony, I asked my physician to discontinue all life-supporting services or show me how to do it. He refused and predicted that someday I would appreciate the unwisdom of my request” (Seyler 338). It is important to add Hook’s quotes when reflecting upon his personal experience with death. Hook feels as though he was robbed of the peaceful serenity of death and will have to suffer through it once more, when death comes knocking again.
Euthanasia is a serious issue in today’s political world. Arguments for and against euthanasia are cause for major debate.
Proponents and opponents disagree on at least four controversial issues. The four major issues are, but not limited to, the nature autonomy, the role of beneficence, the distinction between active and passive euthanasia and the public and social implications of legalization. The nature of autonomy basically means that all people are granted the right to think, feel and act for him or herself. The first and fourteenth amendments were put into place to protect an individual’s freedom of religion, speech, privileges, immunities, and equal protection. The role of beneficence involves the physician’s duty to relieve suffering. The distinction between passive and active euthanasia, or killing and allowing one to die. The public and social implications of legalization are totally based on one’s individual feelings.
Euthanasia is a serious topic because it goes against the norms of traditional medicine. Euthanasia is not always applied to terminally patients either. People who have been in serious accidents, or who have debilitating diseases such as severe cases of Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Vascular Diseases (which lead to strokes and heart attacks) are often in consideration for the application of euthanasia. The problem is, however, these patients typically are in a persistent/permanent vegetative state. A persistent/permanent vegetative state (PVS), is a condition in which a person is neither in a coma nor unconscious. In other words, these patients cannot act or speak for themselves or in addition, respond to much stimulus.
Personal experience and opinion may be a factor that weighs heavily on the issue of euthanasia, but the real substance comes from the facts. The legal ramifications play a major role in the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia began with its roots in both the Hippocratic tradition and the Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of life, Western medicine has long opposed the practice of physician-assisted suicide. However, the controversy over euthanasia is not new. Beginning in about 1870 (after the introduction of chloroform and ether) and continuing in today’s society, euthanasia is still a hot topic of discussion. Ohio is the only state in the United States of America that does not explicitly prohibit euthanasia by jurisdiction of the federal law.
After interviewing Dr. Caleb Dimitrivich, an oncologist, who most directly works with terminally ill patients at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, it is easy to see that he definitely opposes euthanasia. Doctors have real difficulty dealing with death. “Dying is something that I, as doctor, am trying to prevent. If a patient is terminally ill, I strive to make that patients life as comfortable as I possibly can,” says Dr. Dimitrivich. After reading, Matters of Life and Death,” by Professor Lewis Wolpert, one is reminded by the’ “doctors attitude” towards dying patients. Wolpert is a professor of biology and how teaches how biology is applied to medicine “Dying is something patients are not allowed to do. It is an affront to so go against the doctor’s efforts and advice, and this is completely understandable but cannot be the basis for not helping a patient die” (Wolpert 42).
The religious community has taken a negative stance on the issue of euthanasia. The majority of Christian religions ban the application of euthanasia to the terminally ill or PVS patients. In the bible, one can read about the absolute sin of taking another human being’s life, it is iniquitously wrong. After interviewing Maryanne Chapman who is a practicing member of the Catholic faith and who has also worked as a secretary for 15 years at St. Valerie of Ravenna in Clinton Township, MI, her opposition to legalized euthanasia is very clear. “It is a crime against God to end a life,” states Chapman. However, Maryanne is 72 years old and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also makes the comment, “people don’t live on machines, so therefore why should we die on them, God didn’t intend for that.” Basically what Mrs. Chapman is trying to say is that for patients suffering with a PVS, it is also a sin to try to sustain a life that has no purpose or function in society.
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Mark T. Maxwell
This paper will define Euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia is often
confused with and associated with assisted suicide, definitions of the two are
required. Two perspectives shall be presented in this paper. The first
perspective will favor euthanasia or the "right to die," the second perspective
will favor antieuthanasia, or the "right to live". Each perspective shall
endeavor to clarify the legal, moral and ethical ramifications or aspects of
Euthanasia, also mercy killing, is the practice of ending a life so as to
release an individual from an incurable disease or intolerable suffering.
Euthanasia is a merciful means to and end of long-term suffering. Euthanasia is
a relatively new dilemma for the United States and has gained a bad reputation
from negative media hype surrounding assisted suicides. Euthanasia has a
purpose and should be evaluated as humanely filling a void created by our
sometimes inhumane modern society.
Euthanasia is nothing less than cold-blooded killing. Euthanasia cheapens life,
even more so than the very divisive issue of abortion. Euthanasia is morally
and ethically wrong and should be banned in these United States. Modern
medicine has evolved by leaps and bounds recently, euthanasia resets these
medical advances back by years and reduces today's Medical Doctors to
administrators of death.
The term Euthanasia is used generally to refer to an easy or painless
death. Voluntary euthanasia involves a request by the dying patient or that
person's legal representative. Passive or negative euthanasia involves not
doing something to prevent deathâ”that is, allowing someone to die; active or
positive euthanasia involves taking deliberate action to cause a death.
Euthanasia is often mistaken or associated with for assisted suicide, a
distant cousin of euthanasia, in which a person wishes to commit suicide but
feels unable to perform the act alone because of a physical disability or lack
of knowledge about the most effective means. An individual who assists a
suicide victim in accomplishing that goal may or may not be held responsible for
the death, depending on local laws. There is a distinct difference between
euthanasia and assisted suicide. This paper targets euthanasia; pros and cons,
not assisted suicide.
Thesis Argument That Euthanasia Should Be Accepted
Without doubt, modern dying has become fearsome. Doctors now possess
the technologies and the skills to forestall natural death almost indefinitely.
All too often, the terminally ill suffer needless pain and are kept alive
without real hope, as families hold a harrowing deathwatch.
In ancient Greece and Rome it was permissible in some situations to help
others die. For example, the Greek writer Plutarch mentioned that in Sparta,
infanticide was practiced on children who lacked "health and vigor." Both
Socrates and Plato sanctioned forms of euthanasia in certain cases. Voluntary
euthanasia for the elderly was an approved custom in several ancient societies .
Euthanasia has been accepted both legally and morally in various forms
in many societies . "There is no more profoundly personal decision, nor one
which is closer to the heart of personal liberty, than the choice which a
terminally ill person makes to end his or her suffering ...," U.S. District
Judge Barbara Rothstein wrote (R-1). Organizations supporting the legalization
of voluntary euthanasia were established in Great Britain in 1935 and in the
United States in 1938. They have gained some public support, but so far they
have been unable to achieve their goal in either nation. In the last few
decades, Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been
The proeuthanasia, or "right to die," movement has received considerable
encouragement by the passage of laws in 40 states by 1990, which allow legally
competent individuals to make "living wills." These wills empower and instruct
doctors to withhold life-support systems if the individuals become terminally
Euthanasia continues to occur in all societies, including those in which
it is held to be immoral and illegal. A medically assisted end to a meaningless
and worthless "void" of an existence is both accepted and condoned by the
medical profession. In a Colorado survey, 60% of physicians stated that they
have cared for patients for whom they believe active euthanasia would be
justifiable, and 59% expressed a willingness to use lethal drugs in such cases
if legal. In a study of 676 San Francisco physicians, 70% believed that
patients with an incurable terminal illness should have the option of active
euthanasia, and 45% would carry out such a request, if legal (35% were opposed).
Nearly 90% of physicians in another study agreed that "sometimes it is
appropriate to give pain medication to relieve suffering, even if it may hasten
a patient's death."(R-2)
Antithesis Argument That Euthanasia Is Unacceptable
With the rise of organized religion, euthanasia became morally and
ethically abhorrent. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all hold human life
sacred and condemn euthanasia in any form . The American Medical Association
continues to condemn assisted suicide .
Western laws have generally considered the act of helping someone to die
a form of homicide subject to legal sanctions. Even a passive withholding of
help to prevent death has frequently been severely punished .
And the Roman Catholic Church's newly released catechism says:
``Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder.'' (R-1).
The Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association recommends
that the American Medical Association reject euthanasia and physician-assisted
suicide as being incompatible with the nature and purposes of the healing arts
"When does the right to die become the obligation to die?" asks the Rev. Richard
McCormick, professor of Christian ethics at Notre Dame University who spoke
recently against assisted suicide at Fort Lauderdale's Holy Cross Hospital.
"Imagine an 85-year-old grandmother" with the option of ordering a suicide dose
from a doctor: ""Do they want me to ask for it now?' Physician-assisted suicide
saves money. ... This is a flight from the challenge of social compassion." (R-
The issue of euthanasia is not a recent one. The Oath of Hippocrates is
said to have originated in approximately the fifth century B.C. and, even then,
it incorporated a specific pledge against physician-assisted suicide when it
said, "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone, even if asked."
What of the innocent bystanders? The family, friends or even foes of
someone that elects to exercise their "right to die"? It is suggested that a
person suffering from an incurable or terminal illness is not complete command
of their mental faculties and thereby incapable of such an extraordinary
decision. Surely a degraded mental capacity rules out realistic thinking with
regard to survivors. How many "innocent bystanders" also pay the price of
Synthesis For Euthanasia
Euthanasia occurs in all societies, including those in which it is held
to be immoral and illegal . Euthanasia occurs under the guise of secrecy in
societies that secrecy is mandatory. The first priority for the care of
patients facing severe pain as a result of a terminal illness or chronic
condition should be the relief of their pain. Relieving the patient's
psychosocial and other suffering is as important as relieving the patient's pain.
Western laws against passive and voluntary euthanasia have slowly been
eased, although serious moral and legal questions still exist . Some opponents
of euthanasia have feared that the increasing success that doctors have had in
transplanting human organs might lead to abuse of the practice of euthanasia. It
is now generally understood, however, that physicians will not violate the
rights of the dying donor in order to help preserve the life of the organ
Even though polls indicate most Americans support the right of sick
people to end their pain through self-inflicted death, euthanasia is one of the
more contentious aspects of the death-with-dignity movement .
"This is really one of the most fundamental abilities that a human being has to
decide if he or she wants to die," says Meyer, who practiced radiology for 40
Slightly more than half of the physicians surveyed in Washington State
would approve the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia
under certain circumstances. A total of 938 physicians completed questionnaires
about their attitudes toward euthanasia and assisted suicide. Physician-
assisted suicide was described as prescribing medication and providing
counseling to patients on overdosing to end their own lives. Euthanasia was
defined as administering an overdose of medication at an ill patient's request.
Forty-two percent of physicians indicated that they found euthanasia ethically
acceptable under some circumstances. Fifty-four percent indicated that they
believed euthanasia should be legal under certain circumstances .
Today, patients are entitled to opt for passive euthanasia; that is, to
make free and informed choices to refuse life support. The controversy over
active euthanasia, however, is likely to remain intense because of opposition
from religious groups and many members of the medical profession .
The medical profession has generally been caught in the middle of the
social controversies that rage over euthanasia. Government and religious groups
as well as the medical profession itself agree that doctors are not required to
use "extraordinary means" to prolong the life of the terminally ill .
The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliment developed and approved the
following substantive and procedural guidelines, or "points" for Dutch
physicians to consider when practicing or administering Euthanasia:
(a) Euthanasia must be voluntary; the patient's request must be
seriously considered and enduring.
(b) The patient must have adequate information about his or her medical
condition, the prognosis, and alternative methods of treatment
(though it is not required that the patient be terminally ill).
(c) The patient's suffering must be intolerable, in the patient's view,
and must also be irreversible.
(d) There must be no reasonable alternatives for relieving the patient's
suffering that are acceptable to the patient.
(e) Euthanasia may be performed only by a physician (though a nurse
may assist the physician).
(f) The physician must consult with a second physician whose judgment
can be expected to be independent.
(g) The physician must exercise due care in reviewing and verifying the
patient's condition as well as in performing the euthanasia
(h) The relatives must be informed unless the patient does not wish
(i) There should be a written record of the case.
(j) The case may not be reported as a natural death. (R-2).
Having choices, including having the legal right for help to die is
what's important in preserving the basic democratic fabric of the United States
of America. The issue of euthanasia is, by it's very nature, a very difficult
and private choice. Euthanasia should remain exactly that; a choice; a choice
that ought not be legislated or restricted by opposing forces or opinions.
(R-1) Assisted suicide: Helping terminally ill, or "quick fix" for
intolerant society? (Originated from Knight-Ridder Newspapers)
by Patty Shillington Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service June
15 '94 p0615
(R-2) Report of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical
Association. (Transcript) v10 Issues in Law & Medicine Summer
(R-3) "Euthanasia," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994
Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's
(R-4) Report of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the
American Medical Association. (Transcript) v10 Issues in Law &
Medicine Summer '94 p91-97
(R-5) The New England Journal of Medicine July 14 '94 p89(6)
(R-6) Death on trial: the case of Dr. Kevorkian obscures critical
issues - and dangers. (Jack Kevorkian) (Cover Story) by Joseph P.
Shapiro il v116 U.S. News & World Report April 25 '94 p31
(R-7) Euthanasia and Medical Decisions Concerning the Ending of Life.
by P.J. van der Maas and J.J.M. Delden
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