Against the will of God
Religious people don't argue that we can't kill ourselves, or get others to do it. They know that we can do it because God has given us free will. Their argument is that it would be wrong for us to do so.
They believe that every human being is the creation of God, and that this imposes certain limits on us. Our lives are not only our lives for us to do with as we see fit.
To kill oneself, or to get someone else to do it for us, is to deny God, and to deny God's rights over our lives and his right to choose the length of our lives and the way our lives end.
The value of suffering
Religious people sometimes argue against euthanasia because they see positive value in suffering.
The religious attitude to suffering
Most religions would say something like this:
The nature of suffering
Christianity teaches that suffering can have a place in God's plan, in that it allows the sufferer to share in Christ's agony and his redeeming sacrifice. They believe that Christ will be present to share in the suffering of the believer.
Pope John Paul II wrote that "It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls."
However while the churches acknowledge that some Christians will want to accept some suffering for this reason, most Christians are not so heroic.
So there is nothing wrong in trying to relieve someone's suffering. In fact, Christians believe that it is a good to do so, as long as one does not intentionally cause death.
Dying is good for us
Some people think that dying is just one of the tests that God sets for human beings, and that the way we react to it shows the sort of person we are, and how deep our faith and trust in God is.
Others, while acknowledging that a loving God doesn't set his creations such a horrible test, say that the process of dying is the ultimate opportunity for human beings to develop their souls.
When people are dying they may be able, more than at any time in their life, to concentrate on the important things in life, and to set aside the present-day 'consumer culture', and their own ego and desire to control the world. Curtailing the process of dying would deny them this opportunity.
Several Eastern religions believe that we live many lives and the quality of each life is set by the way we lived our previous lives.
Those who believe this think that suffering is part of the moral force of the universe, and that by cutting it short a person interferes with their progress towards ultimate liberation.
A non-religious view
Some non-religious people also believe that suffering has value. They think it provides an opportunity to grow in wisdom, character, and compassion.
Suffering is something which draws upon all the resources of a human being and enables them to reach the highest and noblest points of what they really are.
Suffering allows a person to be a good example to others by showing how to behave when things are bad.
M Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, has written that in a few weeks at the end of life, with pain properly controlled a person might learn
The nature of suffering
It isn't easy to define suffering - most of us can decide when we are suffering but what is suffering for one person may not be suffering for another.
It's also impossible to measure suffering in any useful way, and it's particularly hard to come up with any objective idea of what constitutes unbearable suffering, since each individual will react to the same physical and mental conditions in a different way.
The slippery slope
Many people worry that if voluntary euthanasia were to become legal, it would not be long before involuntary euthanasia would start to happen.
This is called the slippery slope argument. In general form it says that if we allow something relatively harmless today, we may start a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted.
Those who oppose this argument say that properly drafted legislation can draw a firm barrier across the slippery slope.
Various forms of the slippery slope argument
If we change the law and accept voluntary euthanasia, we will not be able to keep it under control.
- Proponents of euthanasia say: Euthanasia would never be legalised without proper regulation and control mechanisms in place
Doctors may soon start killing people without bothering with their permission.
- Proponents say: There is a huge difference between killing people who ask for death under appropriate circumstances, and killing people without their permission
- Very few people are so lacking in moral understanding that they would ignore this distinction
- Very few people are so lacking in intellect that they can't make the distinction above
- Any doctor who would ignore this distinction probably wouldn't worry about the law anyway
Health care costs will lead to doctors killing patients to save money or free up beds:
- Proponents say: The main reason some doctors support voluntary euthanasia is because they believe that they should respect their patients' right to be treated as autonomous human beings
- That is, when doctors are in favour of euthanasia it's because they want to respect the wishes of their patients
- So doctors are unlikely to kill people without their permission because that contradicts the whole motivation for allowing voluntary euthanasia
- But cost-conscious doctors are more likely to honour their patients' requests for death
- A 1998 study found that doctors who are cost-conscious and 'practice resource-conserving medicine' are significantly more likely to write a lethal prescription for terminally-ill patients [Arch. Intern. Med., 5/11/98, p. 974]
- This suggests that medical costs do influence doctors' opinions in this area of medical ethics
The Nazis engaged in massive programmes of involuntary euthanasia, so we shouldn't place our trust in the good moral sense of doctors.
- Proponents say: The Nazis are not a useful moral example, because their actions are almost universally regarded as both criminal and morally wrong
- The Nazis embarked on invountary euthanasia as a deliberate political act - they didn't slip into it from voluntary euthanasia (although at first they did pretend it was for the benefit of the patient)
- What the Nazis did wasn't euthanasia by even the widest definition, it was the use of murder to get rid of people they disapproved of
- The universal horror at Nazi euthanasia demonstrates that almost everyone can make the distinction between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia
- The example of the Nazis has made people more sensitive to the dangers of involuntary euthanasia
Allowing voluntary euthanasia makes it easier to commit murder, since the perpetrators can disguise it as active voluntary euthanasia.
- Proponents say: The law is able to deal with the possibility of self-defence or suicide being used as disguises for murder. It will thus be able to deal with this case equally well
- To dress murder up as euthanasia will involve medical co-operation. The need for a conspiracy will make it an unattractive option
Patient's best interests
A serious problem for supporters of euthanasia are the number of cases in which a patient may ask for euthanasia, or feel obliged to ask for it, when it isn't in their best interest. Some examples are listed below:
- the diagnosis is wrong and the patient is not terminally ill
- the prognosis (the doctor's prediction as to how the disease will progress) is wrong and the patient is not going to die soon
- the patient is getting bad medical care and their suffering could be relieved by other means
- the doctor is unaware of all the non-fatal options that could be offered to the patient
- the patient's request for euthanasia is actually a 'cry for help', implying that life is not worth living now but could be worth living if various symptoms or fears were managed
- the patient is depressed and so believes things are much worse than they are
- the patient is confused and unable to make sensible judgements
- the patient has an unrealistic fear of the pain and suffering that lies ahead
- the patient is feeling vulnerable
- the patient feels that they are a worthless burden on others
- the patient feels that their sickness is causing unbearable anguish to their family
- the patient is under pressure from other people to feel that they are a burden
- the patient is under pressure because of a shortage of resources to care for them
- the patient requests euthanasia because of a passing phase of their disease, but is likely to feel much better in a while
Supporters of euthanasia say these are good reasons to make sure the euthanasia process will not be rushed, and agree that a well-designed system for euthanasia will have to take all these points into account. They say that most of these problems can be identified by assessing the patient properly, and, if necessary, the system should discriminate against the opinions of people who are particularly vulnerable.
Chochinov and colleagues found that fleeting or occasional thoughts of a desire for death were common in a study of people who were terminally ill, but few patients expressed a genuine desire for death. (Chochinov HM, Tataryn D, Clinch JJ, Dudgeon D. Will to live in the terminally ill. Lancet 1999; 354: 816-819)
They also found that the will to live fluctuates substantially in dying patients, particularly in relation to depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, and their sense of wellbeing.
Other people have rights too
Euthanasia is usually viewed from the viewpoint of the person who wants to die, but it affects other people too, and their rights should be considered.
- family and friends
- medical and other carers
- other people in a similar situation who may feel pressured by the decision of this patient
- society in general
Proper palliative care
Palliative care is physical, emotional and spiritual care for a dying person when cure is not possible. It includes compassion and support for family and friends.
Competent palliative care may well be enough to prevent a person feeling any need to contemplate euthanasia.
The key to successful palliative care is to treat the patient as a person, not as a set of symptoms, or medical problems.
The World Health Organisation states that palliative care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process; it neither hastens nor postpones death; it provides relief from pain and suffering; it integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of the patient.
Making things better for patient, family and friends
The patient's family and friends will need care too. Palliative care aims to enhance the quality of life for the family as well as the patient.
Effective palliative care gives the patient and their loved ones a chance to spend quality time together, with as much distress removed as possible. They can (if they want to) use this time to bring any unfinished business in their lives to a proper closure and to say their last goodbyes.
Palliative care should aim to make it easier and more attractive for family and friends to visit the dying person. A survey (USA 2001) showed that terminally ill patients actually spent the vast majority of their time on their own, with few visits from medical personnel or family members.
Spiritual care may be important even for non-religious people. Spiritual care should be interpreted in a very wide sense, since patients and families facing death often want to search for the meaning of their lives in their own way.
Palliative care and euthanasia
Good palliative care is the alternative to euthanasia. If it was available to every patient, it would certainly reduce the desire for death to be brought about sooner.
But providing palliative care can be very hard work, both physically and psychologically. Ending a patient's life by injection is quicker and easier and cheaper. This may tempt people away from palliative care.
Legalising euthanasia may reduce the availability of palliative care
Some fear that the introduction of euthanasia will reduce the availability of palliative care in the community, because health systems will want to choose the most cost effective ways of dealing with dying patients.
Medical decision-makers already face difficult moral dilemmas in choosing between competing demands for their limited funds. So making euthanasia easier could exacerbate the slippery slope, pushing people towards euthanasia who may not otherwise choose it.
When palliative care is not enough
Palliative care will not always be an adequate solution:
- Pain: Some doctors estimate that about 5% of patients don't have their pain properly relieved during the terminal phase of their illness, despite good palliative and hospice care
- Dependency: Some patients may prefer death to dependency, because they hate relying on other people for all their bodily functions, and the consequent loss of privacy and dignity
- Lack of home care: Other patients will not wish to have palliative care if that means that they have to die in a hospital and not at home
- Loss of alertness: Some people would prefer to die while they are fully alert and and able to say goodbye to their family; they fear that palliative care would involve a level of pain-killing drugs that would leave them semi-anaesthetised
- Not in the final stages: Other people are grateful for palliative care to a certain point in their disease, but after that would prefer to die rather than live in a state of helplessness and distress, regardless of what is available in terms of pain-killing and comfort.
Pressure on the vulnerable
This is another of those arguments that says that euthanasia should not be allowed because it will be abused.
The fear is that if euthanasia is allowed, vulnerable people will be put under pressure to end their lives. It would be difficult, and possibly impossible, to stop people using persuasion or coercion to get people to request euthanasia when they don't really want it.
The pressure of feeling a burden
People who are ill and dependent can often feel worthless and an undue burden on those who love and care for them. They may actually be a burden, but those who love them may be happy to bear that burden.
Nonetheless, if euthanasia is available, the sick person may pressure themselves into asking for euthanasia.
Pressure from family and others
Family or others involved with the sick person may regard them as a burden that they don't wish to carry, and may put pressure (which may be very subtle) on the sick person to ask for euthanasia.
Increasing numbers of examples of the abuse or neglect of elderly people by their families makes this an important issue to consider.
The last few months of a patient's life are often the most expensive in terms of medical and other care. Shortening this period through euthanasia could be seen as a way of relieving pressure on scarce medical resources, or family finances.
It's worth noting that cost of the lethal medication required for euthanasia is less than £50, which is much cheaper than continuing treatment for many medical conditions.
Some people argue that refusing patients drugs because they are too expensive is a form of euthanasia, and that while this produces public anger at present, legal euthanasia provides a less obvious solution to drug costs.
If there was 'ageism' in health services, and certain types of care were denied to those over a certain age, euthanasia could be seen as a logical extension of this practice.
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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