Ethical Question: Do the potential benefits of globally legalized active intentional euthanasia outweigh the dangers?
Euthanasia: The practice of a physician painlessly killing a patient with an excruciating and incurable disease, or irreversible coma
Active Euthanasia: When death is brought about intentionally by a doctor, typically through an overdose of a sedative (typically a barbiturate such as pentobarbital)
Non-voluntary Euthanasia: Euthanasia performed without consent from the receiving patient, illegal in all countries. (The exception being pets)
Involuntary Euthanasia: Caused when a physician unintentionally kills a terminally ill patient, often prosecuted as man-slaughter or murder
Passive Euthanasia: The practice of withdrawing treatment and resorting to palliative care to allow the patient to die of their disease (informally known as “pulling the plug”)
Legalize: Make a certain practice/object that was previously illegal permissible by law
Relevance to UN Goal:
This topic is highly relevant to SDG 16, especially with the idea of creating peaceful and inclusive societies for all. Currently, society is not inclusive to doctors and patients who believe that euthanasia is the best option to relieve a patients’ suffering. As of now, society unfairly punishes those who wish to end their suffering by forcefully subjecting them to often times degrading treatment.
Euthanasia has had a long history, with the Ancient Greeks and Romans first using hemlock to euthanize patients. More recently, physicians in the 1600’s also practiced euthanasia despite opposition from Thomas Aquinas, Francois Ranchin (French physician), and Michael Boudwijnes based on religious grounds. Earlier methods of euthanasia were crude, and they included suffocation, bleeding, and halting treatment. In the mid-1800’s, more refined methods emerged, and surgeons such as John Warren recommended morphine for euthanasia. The first attempt to legalize euthanasia in the US was made by Robert Ingersoll after witnessing his mother succumb painfully to liver cancer. His proposal stipulated that the patient must be in unbearable pain, is mentally sound, required three doctors to agree that the illness was incurable in addition to the patient consenting in front of three witnesses. This bill was rejected partly due to euthanasia groups’ connection to eugenicists. Later on, in the 1930’s, some British doctors supporting euthanasia founded the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society, now known as Dignity in Dying. In 1936, King George was administered a fatal dose of morphine and cocaine to hasten his death since he was suffering cardio-respiratory failure. Though this case was later used to support the legalization of euthanasia in Britain, it is still considered as murder or manslaughter to euthanize a patient even with explicit consent. As of now, active euthanasia is only legal in the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg.
Current Support For Euthanasia:
- Is the most humane since it will end unnecessary, excessive suffering
- Would grant the patient more autonomy over their own lives
- Allows the patient to die with dignity, rather than suffer long term humiliation and pain
- Would relieve the financial burden imposed on the patients’ family
- Is the superior option to long-term palliative care
- Inducing a painless death is part of a doctor’s role in relieving the patients’ suffering
- Frees up hospital equipment and funds for more urgent cases
- It will give individual doctors too much power over a patient’s life
- Pain is a natural part of the human existence, so we should not administer deadly medications
- Would enable abuses of power by doctors and nurses
- Slippery slopes to unnecessary deaths
- Personal grudges/family affairs could muddle the decision making process
- Directly contradicts the Hippocratic Oath
Although the downsides of euthanasia cannot be ignored, the societal benefits of it far outweigh the negatives. The most compelling argument against the euthanasia is the idea that it is a slippery slope to abuses of power, and that personal matters could cloud the judgment of surrounding family members. However, in countries where euthanasia is legal, this does not seem to be an issue. According to Jocelyn Downie, the slippery slope argument does not statistically hold up in Australia, where euthanasia is legal. Even in the Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon, there has been no liberalization of euthanasia laws, meaning that those who can access/request euthanasia hasn’t changed either. Another argument that those against euthanasia make is the appeal to “naturalism”. Proponents of this argument believe that it is not right for the doctors to euthanize a patient to relieve unbearable pain since pain is a natural part of the human existence. This is a weak argument since humanity tends to try to improve the naturally unpleasant facts of life, and pain should be no exception. Lastly, some opponents of euthanasia claim that the legalization of euthanasia will enable abuses of power by doctors and nurses. This can be negated if the law requires that euthanasia can only be performed if the patients’ consent is video taped, signed, and has at least 2 witnesses, if the patient is mentally stable. Belgium also allows “competent minors” to request euthanasia, and we should adopt that model since prolonging a patients’ suffering for years to wait until they turn 18 is also cruel.
Call For Action:
Euthanasia should be legalized worldwide since ending unnecessary suffering is more merciful than forcing patients to endure painful or humiliating lifestyles. Patients should be able to access euthanasia as long as they are mentally sane, have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or if they are under an irreversible coma (in which case the family and doctors will decide). With-holding the freedom to die is also paternalistic and infantilizing since the government is telling the people that only they have the right to decide upon how to deal with an illness that the patient is suffering from, in a similar way to how banning abortion causes an uninvolved party to infringe upon a persons’ autonomy. To avoid doctors and nurses abusing their power, the patient giving their consent must be video-taped with at least 2 doctors as witnesses and 1 family member. The patient should also be required to sign a waiver warning them of the potential risks of euthanasia.
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