Inherently, people have a pathological fear of death. The mythical status of death renders us forgetful of the fact that death must exist in the cycle of human existence. It has set the stage for a debated theme on whether death should be effectuated termed euthanasia. Euthanasia, by definition, is the act of deliberately ending a life with the intention of alleviating pain and suffering It is also referred to as physician-assisted death, assisted suicide, or mercy killing. Like all issues of lifestyles and death, euthanasia is a controversial topic that generates a series of complex summary questions about bioethics, freedom of choice, infringement of the right to live, and so on (Sjöstrand 225). In a study by Kouwenhoven, 47% of the physicians interviewed indicated that euthanasia should be allowed for particular situations while 42% disagreed with any acts of euthanasia; 11% reported that they believe it is circumstantial (274). Both proponents and opponents of euthanasia have legitimate concerns that make it controversial. Voluntary euthanasia is allowed in some countries while in others, acts of euthanasia are against the law (Steck 938). However, the overall benefits of the practice of euthanasia confer the need to legalize it across the globe.
Often, the discussion about euthanasia revolves around the right to live. However, human life must coexist hand in hand with death as this is what life entails (Sjöstrand 225). Therefore, opponents who argue that euthanasia infringes on the right to live have also to contend with the fact that people have the fundamental right to die just as they have the right to live (Sjöstrand 225). Our free will determines our course in life. Consequently, the right to die should be guided by the same self-determined capacity as that which governs our right to live (Jha 43). Liberal democracies advocate for freedom of choice which ideally should translate to the fundamental right for anyone to choose how they will die (Steck 939). Some people may prefer a dignified death over persistent suffering. A terminally ill patient who is in terrible pain and wishes to die in dignity should be allowed to do so; failure to grant him his wish and denying him personal autonomy would trespass on his human rights (Sjöstrand 226). Euthanasia, in this case, would ideally be an assistance that facilitates his wish to exit the world.
Euthanasia in itself protects patients from cruelty and upholds human rights (Steck 939). It is only the patient who is aware of what it feels like to experience intractable pain. Physical conditions experienced by terminally ill patients adversely affect their quality of life (Jha 43). Allowing someone who is terminally ill to end their life is a compassionate and rational choice which helps them avert their suffering instead of continuing it against their wish. It is, in fact, immoral to force someone to continue living with intolerable pain and deny them their desire to die a dignified death (Sjöstrand 226). The intentions of not assisting patients in pain to die may be good, but they go against a person’s self-determined choice. Besides, one can not request for assisted suicide for another competent person. Termination of life should only be available to the individual who requests for it. Therefore, euthanasia does no harm to others and, as such, does not infringe on the rights of others.
Legalization of euthanasia is crucial in saving patient’s lives. Research reported that before the legalization of euthanasia in Netherlands, 0.9% of all assisted suicides were conducted without the patient’s consent (Kouwenhoven 274). A study done later after the legalization reported that the figures had dropped to 0.3% of euthanasia done without the patient’s consent (Kouwenhoven 274). It shows that legalization of euthanasia reduced the unacceptable practice of euthanasia without the patient’s consent. It is because legalization provides a regulated framework which requires doctors to carry out euthanasia only after obtaining explicit consent (Kouwenhoven 275). The framework, therefore, protects patients from irresponsible practices of euthanasia which serves to save their lives.
Euthanasia can also prevent the drainage of economic resources (Steck 934). The end-of-life care is absurdly expensive (Steck 934). It often leaves families of terminally ill patient with crippling debts which most often are beyond their financial assets. Besides, end-of-life care is most often insufficient and it subjects patients to unnecessary suffering which destroys their quality of life (Kouwenhoven 275). Therefore, it makes more sense if the resources spent to prolong the life of a terminally ill patient were channeled towards life-saving treatments. It is especially the case if these funds are devoted to a patient who is willing to die, but can not be subjected to euthanasia due to legal binding. Besides, assisted suicide shortens the agony of the victim’s loved ones (Jha 44). Terminal illnesses are almost certainly the final stop before death. Therefore, for patients who are willing to be assisted to die, such a decision shortens the relevant period when the relatives would have to watch their loved one distressed and in intractable pain.
Opponents of euthanasia assert that doctors who practice euthanasia contravene the Hippocratic Oath which requires physicians to act in the best interests of their patients in their moral imperative of nonmaleficence (Kouwenhoven 277). However, this is a misnomer because, ideally, when the consented doctor alleviates the suffering of their patient by assisting them to die, he/she is acting upon the obligations set out by the oath. It would be a great injustice to the patient to refuse to consent with their wish to die, especially if their desire would relieve them from long-term suffering (Kouwenhoven 278). In fact, updated interpretations of the oath provide for assisted death if carried out with the best interests of the patient at heart. Others feel that some populations, such as the poor, the elderly, and women, would be represented disproportionately amongst people who chose for assisted death. However, a study by Steck showed otherwise, as a majority of patients who had assisted death were divorced college graduates of Asian origin who presented with cancer (943).
In conclusion, goals of the medical practice of saving lives while providing ultimate care should be upheld. However, in so doing, this should not compromise compassion and a terminally ill patients’ right to end his/her life in a dignified manner. People with unyielding pain and suffering should, therefore, be allowed to choose to terminate their suffering if the request complies with the physician’s assessment of the condition and its prognosis. States should come up with provisions that rectify the inadequacies surrounding the practice of euthanasia. This way, the practice will be regulated in ways that will protect the vulnerable in addition to eliminating the fear of prosecution for doctors who carry out euthanasia.
Jha, Mrinal Kanti, et al. “Euthanasia: Indian Scenario Post 07/03/2011.” Journal of Punjab Academy of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43-47.
Kouwenhoven, Pauline SC, et al. “Opinions of Health Care Professionals and the Public after Eight Years of Euthanasia Legislation in the Netherlands: A Mixed Methods Approach.” Palliative Medicine, vol. 27, no. 3, 2013, pp. 273-280.
Sjöstrand, Manne, et al. “Autonomy-Based Arguments against Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Critique.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, vol. 16, no. 2, 2013, pp. 225-230.
Steck, Nicole, et al. “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Selected European Countries and US States: Systematic Literature Review.” Medical Care, vol. 51, no. 10, 2013, pp. 938-944.