Euthanasia is inducing a painless death, by agreement and with compassion, to ease suffering. There are also four different kind of euthanasia; active, passive, voluntary and involuntary. Active euthanasia means carrying out some action to help someone to die, whereas passive euthanasia is to not carry out actions which would prolong life. Thus with regards to the above, voluntary euthanasia is helping a person who wishes to die to do so and involuntary euthanasia is helping a person to die when they are unable to request this for themselves.
It is argued on a yearly basis as to whether euthanasia should be legalised in the United Kingdom.
There are several arguments in favour for the legalisation of euthanasia. In voluntary euthanasia, it’s argued that it shows mercy for those suffering with pain and a disease with no cure, a view which Thomas More (1478-1535) supports. In his book Utopia (1516), More argued that when a patient suffers ‘a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope, either of recovery or ease, they may choose rather to die, since they cannot live but in much misery’.
It is an opportunity to end needless suffering, one that we already offer to animals, thus should be offered to humans.
Other advocates of voluntary euthanasia argue that it should be an option for an adult who is able and willing to make such a decision (autonomy). They argue that it should be on offer as one option among many, along with the kind of care of patients with a terminal illness is offered by hospitals and hospices. This argument is maintained by John Stuart Mill who, in his book On Liberty (1859), argued that in matters that do not concern others, individuals should have full autonomy: ‘The only part of the conduct of any one, for which (a citizen) is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.
Over himself, over his body and mind, this individual is sovereign.’ The VES (www.dignityindying.org.uk) also argues that every human being deserves respect and has the right to choose his or her own destiny, including how he or she lives and dies. American doctor Jack Kervorkian has said (Gula, 1988): ‘In my view the highest principle in medical ethics – in any kind of ethics – is personal autonomy, self-determination. What counts is what the patient wants and judges to be a benefit or a value in his or her own life. That’s primary’. We have autonomy over our bodies in matters of life, and it should be the same in matters of death. Thus, voluntary euthanasia gives people full autonomy and should be legalised.
Other believers of voluntary euthanasia claim that it maintains quality of life. They say that human beings should be able to maintain their dignity up until the end of their lives. Thus, not only is it a matter of pain, but of self respect. If someone’s standard of living is such that they no longer want to live, then they should be able to end their life and, if necessary, be assisted in doing so. However, the quality of life worth living is one that only the person in question can define. Having control over their life is a way of enhancing their human dignity. Thus, as euthanasia maintains this quality of life and human dignity it should be legalised.
A further point arguing that euthanasia is acceptable claims that the act is not in fact murder and should therefore be legalised, as it doesn’t go against any other laws. This is sustained by Gregory E. Pence in his article ‘Why physicians should aid the dying’ (1997). Pence argues that killing humans who don’t want to live is not wrong. He continues to explain that it isn’t wrong to help the dying to die, because they are actually dying.
There are also several arguments against voluntary euthanasia. One difficulty with euthanasia being legalised is a person’s motives. It is questionable as to whether we can be sure that when a person asks for death, that the person isn’t crying out in despair, rather than making a definitive decision. When a person is desperate, they may feel that they want to end their life and therefore deduce that the pain is too great and life too agonising. However perhaps these moments of desperation will pass and they will be glad that no one acted on their pleas.
It is also questionable as to whether doctors can be sure that they know and understand all the facts. It could also be possible that they may fear a future which will not be realised. Thus any euthanasia process would have to establish, beyond any doubt, the true intentions of the patient who is requesting euthanasia and that the patient is fully aware of the situation. Thus from this view point euthanasia shouldn’t be legalised due to the risk of misinformation or a failure to comprehend the situation which would leave the patient vulnerable to a decision that he or she might not truly want to make.
There are also arguments against the legalisation of euthanasia due to the risk of mistake that may occur, as we can’t be certain that they would be avoided. For example, someone chooses death because they have been diagnosed with a fatal, incurable and painful illness. Then, after the person has died, it is discovered that the diagnosis was incorrect. Therefore, in the legalisation of euthanasia, the diagnosis would have to be beyond a doubt and it is questionable about whether there can always be medical certainty about what the condition will entail and how long it will take to develop. Thus, being an area of doubt that could lead to irreversible mistakes, euthanasia shouldn’t be legalised to safeguard people against this.
Glover (1977) noted that people who feel they are burdens on their families sometimes commit suicide. Thus it may be possible that elderly relatives who think they are burdens to their families ask for voluntary euthanasia out of a sense of duty to the family. It’s also questionable as to whether, on the other hand, they could be pressured into asking for voluntary euthanasia by their relatives. As an example, the conviction of Harold Shipman who, as a doctor, murdered elderly patients over a period of years shows the power of doctors. Thus, due to possible abuse of the system, euthanasia should not be legalised as the existence of such a system could allow such people even more capacity for murder by manipulating patients and documentation.
There are also arguments against the legalisation of euthanasia due to its’ possible negative impact on the community. It is argued that the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia might lead to other forms of euthanasia being supported, for example, involuntary euthanasia may start to be carried out (like the Nazis did) on the sick, the elderly and the disabled.
However, Glover (1977) says that this argument is unconvincing and thus rejects it, whilst Helga Kuhse (1991) has observed that this has not happened in the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia is legal. It is further argued that its’ negative effects on the community might include the damage of the care of patients who are dying. While oppressing voluntary euthanasia, people have developed caring and sensitive environments for the terminally ill within the hospice movement. Therefore it is possible that legalisation of voluntary euthanasia would effect the culture in which that approach to care has been developed. For example, it is questionable as to whether, if voluntary euthanasia was legalised, people would be concerned about visiting hospitals, fearful of what might happen such as an unwanted assisted death.
There are other cases where a patient cannot let their wishes be known, such as a person who is in a coma in which recovery is very unlikely or impossible. There are also cases of babies who have severe, permanent and possibly deteriorating health conditions that cause suffering. The withdrawal of treatment or use of certain medicines may lead to involuntary euthanasia. The principle of this is uncontroversial. However, the question of taking away food and water is. Tony Bland (1989) was in a coma from which doctors believed he would never recover. He was classed as in a vegetative state and could open his eyes but he did not respond to anything around him. He couldn’t feed but could digest food and needed to have food and water provided to him through a feeding tube.
He wasn’t dying, yet there was no cure. There ended in being a court case over whether or not it was right to remove artificial feeding, which would lead to his death. The court allowed Bland to die through starvation and dehydration, which would be painful if he was able to sense the pain, though is was presumed that he couldn’t. Thus this takes steps towards active involuntary euthanasia or even non-voluntary euthanasia as The 2005 Mental Capacity Act for England and Wales preserves in law the view that assisted food and fluids is a medical treatment that could be withdrawn. With there being instances where doctors are convinced a person will never wake up from a coma, or has no capacity for normal function, and yet can be kept alive, there is the question over whether it shows much or less respect for the value of a person to withdraw life saving measures and thus whether or not this should be legal.
Other areas of controversy surround the care of disabled babies. It is possible to keep alive more and more physically disabled babies. However, some argue that allowing a disabled baby to live is to disable a family. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (November 2006) urged health professionals to consider euthanasia for seriously disabled babies to spare the emotional burden of families bringing them up. Critics of this are concerned that the example of actively killing a baby or withdrawing treatment to bring about death develops a culture in which all disabled people are considered to be of less value and thus dispute as to whether or not this should be legal.
Answers of these questions are also sought through religion. Questions such as what do we do for the person who is in a coma with no hope for recovery? How do we care for the terminally ill who is in a lot of pain? These questions can be answered by Christianity and Islam. In Christianity, biblical teachings forbid killing (Sixth commandment).
They also say that life should not be violated and there is also a powerful message of the importance of healing and care for the sick. However, there are exceptions for warfare and self-defence. There are also examples in the bible where the sacrifice of life is considered moral (‘greater love has no man than this: That a man lay down his life for his friends’ John 15:13). The bible does not prohibit all taking of life in all circumstances, although Christians have traditionally considered taking one’s own life to be wrong. Thus is can be seen that Christians would accept euthanasia in certain circumstances.
Cite this essay
Euthanasia should be legalised. Agree or Disagree?. (2017, Sep 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/euthanasia-should-be-legalised-agree-or-disagree-essay