The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” which means good and “thanatos” which means death. Hence the literal translation of euthanasia is good death. Majority of countries around the world has prohibited euthanasia yet particular countries and states still apply this concept without much regard to the laws governing this issue. Unfortunately, cases of euthanasia still flourish because the physician conducting euthanasia is often left unharmed. Among all the countries around the world, the Netherlands has been identified as the prime country that allows the application of euthanasia in hospital cases.
The topic of euthanasia is a controversial topic in human health. Euthanasia has been associated with medical issues, as well as ethical, legal, cultural and religious issues. Euthanasia has been originally defined as a method of accelerating death of a patient in order for the patient to avoid additional pain and misery due to his current medical condition. Since this classical definition is very sketchy, it is important that the different forms of euthanasia be described in detail.
Voluntary euthanasia pertains to the hastening of death based on the consent that has been provided by the patient. It is a common situation in voluntary euthanasia that the patient signifies his wish to end his life because of the hardships he is currently experiencing as a consequence of his medical illness and another individual accomplishes euthanasia to fulfill the patient’s wishes. In the case of involuntary euthanasia, the patient remains competent is signifying his wishes and even decide what he wants to happen to himself, but euthanasia is still performed on the patient without even discussing this option with him.
There are also cases wherein the patient is not able to express his wishes because he has lost his ability to communicate and non-voluntary euthanasia is conducted on the patient. The loss of ability to communicate is often observed among adult patients who are in a comatose or mentally deficient condition. The condition of not being able to communicate may also be observed among newborn babies that have congenital anomalies. There are also different forms of euthanasia that is based on how it is conducted.
Active euthanasia pertains to the accelerating of the death process through the act of injecting a toxic substance that would result in death of the patient. Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, refers to euthanasia that involves the removal of treatment or the refusal in providing treatment to the patient. This type of euthanasia entails giving up the use of any life support systems or treatments and reflects an individual’s intention that the patient die after soon after the act is performed.
The word passive often confuses the public because the word connotes not performing any particular act but the phrase passive euthanasia technically means the induction of death through the removal of supportive systems to the patient. Several other phrases have been used interchangeably to denote euthanasia. These are physician-assisted suicide of killing, withholding treatment, mercy killing or medical futility. In physician-assisted suicide, the medical practitioner supplies the patient with a lethal substance which the patient himself administers on himself in order to end his life (Materstvedt et al. 2003). In the case of withholding life-sustaining treatment, the physician attending to the patient decides that the use of further medical equipment and medications will not benefit the patient.
In addition, the decision of withholding life-sustaining treatment is also based on the patient’s and the family’s request. Most of the hospital cases that withhold life-sustaining treatment are also futile in terms of medical procedures and treatments. There is much controversy with regards to the use of euthanasia around the world.
It has been reported that majority of the physicians would support the authorization of euthanasia in medical practice. Particular countries and states have actually rejection or overturned earlier promulgations that are related to the conduct of euthanasia. In Australia, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was disallowed in 1997. In the state of Oregon in the United States, the Oregon Death and Dignity Act was discarded in 1999 (Miller et al. , 2004). These Acts were denied based on a number of ethical implications.
One of the major issues related to euthanasia is that the suffering of the patient was not alleviated correctly. It has been pointed out that there is a possibility that the appropriate palliative care was not provided to the patient hence the patient would experience pain and discomfort. The availability of euthanasia thus influences the decisions of the physician wherein the physician would not look into the patient’s condition in detail because he is aware that there will always be the option of performing euthanasia in case the patient does not feel better as soon as expected.
It is also possible that the amount of pain medications were below the optimal concentration that would be needed to eradicate the pain the patient is experiencing. There are also instances when a patient with a terminally ill condition is also suffering from a second medical disorder. Co-morbidities often occur with cancer patients, wherein they also suffer from major depression or another form of mental health disorder. Clinical research has also showed that patients with terminally ill conditions are more likely to request euthanasia in order to end of his suffering and frustration.
It is thus important to determine whether the suffering of a patient continues due to patient negligence or mainly due to the illness itself. Another ethical issue related to euthanasia is that patients generally change their mind with regards to their requested treatment and wishes during the course of their ailment. It has been observed that among the patients who initially request for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, only approximately one-third of the patients remained with their decision of using euthanasia.
As for the rest of the patients, they eventually changed their minds with regards to requesting euthanasia because an alternative method was provided to them that changed their perception of their terminal conditions. The alternative option actually made their conditions and current lives tolerable and still worth living. If euthanasia were legalized, it would be a great loss to the human population to see a significant number of patients that would instantly resort to giving up their lives just because of the idea that there is suffering and pain due to their illness. The value of life is also questioned in the act of euthanasia.
Christianity has taught that only God will provide and take away life hence any person does not have the right to end an individual’s life, regards of his medical condition or state. The ethical issue of the patient’s and the physician’s rights to life are also questioned in euthanasia. In the medical Oath of Hippocrates, it is stated that a physician will do no harm to the patient and this should not be confused with the patient’s decision to die because this does not automatically mean that the physician has the right to kill the patient that signified his intent to receive euthanasia.
The slippery slope phenomenon has been strongly linked with the issue of euthanasia, resulting in the need for a thorough sociological review of the act. Initial cases that employed euthanasia often involved hastening death among terminally ill patients. Euthanasia is secondarily provided to patients diagnosed to be chronically ill. The slippery slope phenomenon pertains to the application of euthanasia on other medical cases that show vague definitions with regards to futility and recovery.
These medical conditions include the persistent vegetative state, which involves a patient that had undergone an episode of coma and then reawakened with a destructed brain stem. A patient in a persistent vegetative state thus presents with the inability to communicate but is actually conscious and can only perform the gag reflex. The persistent vegetative state is an exception to the definition of brain death, because only one of the two major components of the central nervous system is affected by the condition.
Brain death has been classically defined as the shutting down of the entire central nervous system, including the cerebral cortex and the brain stem, resulting in the loss of breathing and stoppage of beating of the heart. In the case of persistent vegetative state, the patient remains awake yet has lost the capacity to perform any other motor activities. If euthanasia were legalized, this would provide physicians and family members of the patient an option to decide on whether it is right to end the life of a patient if he is in a persistent vegetative state.
Other patients suffering from AIDS would also be given a quick solution to get away from their suffering of AIDS-related complications and would not learn to live the rest of their lives with AIDS. It is also alarming to imagine that if euthanasia were legalized, any elderly person may be subjected to euthanasia in order to circumvent the responsibility of caring for a senior individual. The issue of euthanasia also affects the patient’s trust in a physician. These medical professionals have long been perceived as skilled individuals that have a great knowledge in saving and prolonging the life of an individual.
It is thus a normal implication that these medical professionals also have the expertise in hastening and terminating the life of an individual should he be asked to perform this or should he decide that ending a life of a person is the right thing to do. Hence if euthanasia is legalized, patients would feel that the physician carries the option of whether he shall or shall not live. Another sociological issue related to euthanasia is that the patient may be pressured to decide on euthanasia because of his family’s treatment on him (Ganzini et al. 2002).
If euthanasia were legalized, any patient that feels that his illness is becoming a burden to his family members may easily pick the option of euthanasia to avoid the disappointment and anguish that his family is experiencing due to his illness. As for other elderly patients who are chronically or terminally ill, they would rather avoid being a burden to their families hence they would most likely request for euthanasia. Euthanasia is also implicated with sociological issues such as the eradication of unwanted ethnic groups.
The historical incident of the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during World War II is an extreme example of the use of euthanasia. The decision to eradicate Jews was then a political move that was performed using a medical procedure. The incident of mass murdering of Jews by the German Nazis is also strongly associated with the concept of eugenics, or the biased selection of individuals that are allowed or accepted by society. Eugenics has also been linked with the eradication of criminals in society during the earlier centuries.