What is the ethical dilemma on Euthanasia?

Research PaperEuthanasia
May 21, 2019

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the act of ending a life with the purpose of relieving an individual from experiencing extreme pain and suffering. It comes from two Greek words “eu” which means good and “Thanatos ” which is equivalent to death or to the Greek god of death. Euthanasia is a medical procedure wherein an attending physician administers a drug which dosage is fatal, and this is often availed by those who have an incurable or terminal disease. While it is a more common practice in animals, there is a question of ethics when it comes to humans.

Euthanasia is a well-practiced procedure in veterinary clinics where pet owners choose to let their pets have a peaceful death rather than let their pets suffer from an incurable disease. Many may seem in favor of utilizing euthanasia because people do not want to prolong their beloved pet’s suffering. Some still oppose euthanizing, even for animals, as they say that humans are made to fight for their lives until the very last, why not give pets the chance to live it out, too?

In that sense, some are arguing that euthanasia should also be a good thing to do for humans so as not to prolong the individual’s pain and suffering. Even with that said, some still presents the argument that euthanizing humans should be avoided at all costs because pain can be alleviated with drugs and with the help of advanced medical technology. Some even say that giving up on fighting to live that easily devalues human life.

A study in 2016 found that there are 0.3 to 4.6% deaths that were reported as euthanasia in places where the practice is legal. Patients with cancer comprise of 70% of the ones who got involved with the practice of euthanasia. It is also shown that even if the practice of euthanasia is legalized, it shows no signs that it is being abused. And instead of wanting to relieve pain and suffering, the patients or family of patients who chose to be euthanized are more concerned that they will lose their autonomy and dignity and that they will no longer be able to enjoy life.

Types of euthanasia

Currently, there are only 19 countries in the world that has allowed some form of euthanasia. Euthanasia is often confused with the terms assisted dying and assisted suicide. In contrast to euthanasia, assisted dying, also called physician-assisted suicide, is when a physician assists a patient in taking a drug upon their request. Assisted suicide on the other hand includes people who are not suffering from a terminal or incurable disease but has been allowed to be given a death-inducing drug. In some places, euthanasia is used as an umbrella word to cover all three.

Other than that, euthanasia is also classified by the procedure. The first is passive euthanasia, the indirect method, which involves the withdrawing or withholding of life-sustaining treatments. At times, it also involves providing strong painkilling medications that may become toxic for the patient over time. Thus relieving pain with the side effect of speeding up the patient’s death. Some don’t consider this as euthanasia as there is no intent to kill.

Meanwhile, active euthanasia is when a lethal substance is purposely administered to end a patient’s life. This is what most people think of when it comes to the subject of euthanasia because this is how it is usually portrayed in media. The act of turning off life-support (passive euthanasia) isn’t what usually people think of as a kind of euthanasia. Active euthanasia is more controversial as it triggers religious, medical, moral, and ethical arguments.

Next, is the other way to classify euthanasia aside from identifying the procedure. These are voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is when the patient himself or herself is the one who gave consent to be euthanized. The patient must show that they fully understand what they are giving consent to and is well enough to make a conscious decision upon giving said consent.

Non-voluntary euthanasia is when a direct family member or guardian has to make the decision because the patient is unable to do so for himself or herself due to permanent incapacitation or state of unconsciousness. This usually happens for people under comatose or for children who are not able to make such a decision for themselves. Involuntary euthanasia is done against the patient’s will.

Is euthanasia really ethical?

The ethics of euthanasia has raised so much attention and moral dilemmas even though the decision solely comes from the patient, or if unconscious or a minor, from a direct relative. One of the most challenging questions regarding euthanasia is the patient’s mental and emotional capacity to even evaluate the consequences of such action.

From a biblical viewpoint, euthanasia is, without a doubt, disapproved of. However, in terms of rights and privileges, a patient and his or her family certainly has the right to address the concern with full consideration of the pain and suffering brought about by a disease, for instance, cancer. The matter of a person suffering from a challenging disability that is hindering one from living a comfortable life is also taken into consideration.

For decades now, the ethics of euthanasia has also been one of the central issues for numerous controversial debates . This also includes the specific criteria to justify the need for the said medical procedure. The question then lies between killing and simply letting someone die – an act which is against the code of health care providers’ primary concern – the health of the patient.

This controversial issue holds every question one can think of regarding the value of human life, and like any other controversial issue, the division between those who are in favor of euthanasia and those who are against it is highly-visible. Those in favor of euthanasia sees the procedure as mercy killing, owing to the fact that ending the patient’s life also means relieving a patient of further pain and suffering.

On the other hand, those who are against euthanasia ultimately holds on to the fact that the patient may have undergone serious emotional challenges which may have effects on the patient’s decisions. Furthermore, pulling the plug for patients who are not able to speak for themselves, for example, comatose patients, is another issue closely related to this process. The question remains the same, is it morally wrong to let someone die? How is that different from killing someone?

What do medical experts say about the practice of euthanasia?

Euthanasia is considered a basic health service in the Netherlands – the country which first legalized euthanasia. Nevertheless, doctors in the Netherlands still have a say whether or not they are willing to carry out the procedure. Some refuse it because of religious grounds, their tight grip on the Hippocratic oath, or because they are unable to assess the procedure after it occurred with the patient.

Doctors too have their own personal views regarding euthanasia. Not all doctors are in favor of it, not all are willing to let their patients undergo the procedure. The doctors are torn whether to grant their patients’ wishes and alleviate their suffering or hold on to their oath to save lives. Some doctors even used to do it but have now stopped after they have thought about the psychological impact it has on themselves after conducting euthanasia.

They have not thought much about it at first as they were not aware that the patient should be mentally competent at the time when they have decided and on the moment of euthanizing itself. But then they have realized that they had a patient who demanded to be euthanized at one point in their career, a patient who they could have saved, could have lived longer, and could have been given the chance to find a new balance in their life. That circumstance weighs more than those who are in living knowing that they are facing inevitable deaths and only chose to have it come earlier.

Those who are in favor of it, in the contrary, find euthanasia to be a very special thing and the start of a new era. The doctors say that patients are given the bearable option to sever their link with life, as long as they are in pain and suffering, rather than suddenly committing suicide and traumatize loved ones for the rest of their lives. With euthanasia, the patients and their families are able to discuss, bid proper goodbyes, spend the rest of their time left with their family, and die in peace.

Are patients themselves in favor of euthanasia?

Some patients believe that euthanasia is an extraordinary way of medical care wherein they do not have to suffer extreme unwanted pains from various treatments which are not certain to work. Above all, they believe that they can relieve their families off the burden of having to take care of them which can take its toll on their emotional and physical well-being.

Patients who have undergone various ineffective therapies and treatments or is aware that nothing could be done to cure them choose to be euthanized rather than prolong their suffering and have the hospital bill continually shoot up. It is made sure that patients are of sound mind when making the decision. Some are even encouraged to discuss it with their family first as some may be against it or have thought of a way other than euthanasia that will relieve the pain.

Patients who have suffered from physically altering conditions often don’t want to be a burden to those who will have to take care of them. In addition, they feel like they will lose of their dignity and pride if they continue to live on in the reduced state they are in. They do not want themselves and the people who love them to suffer as they watch the condition get worse over time. The patients also think that there is no point in not continuing with the procedure (euthanasia) because they will no longer be able to live their life as they want it.

Euthanasia is called mercy killing for a reason. Records show that those who request for euthanasia are either terminally ill and/or in chronic and severe pain. Being taken care of is the epitome of all psychological factors influencing their decision to ask for this final request. This umbrellas depression, losing control even in their own body, and not wanting to be dependent on others.

In the end, the ethics of euthanasia really lies on what is best for the suffering person. Should the patient be pushed to continue to live or be allowed to make his own decision as to dying? Will agreeing to allow euthanasia cost so much for the patient and everyone around him? Will they be in favor of it in the long run? There are so many questions one could ask in order to determine if the act of euthanizing a person is ethical or not.

What one should never fail to keep in mind is that no person would want to live in perpetual extreme pain and suffering. The same goes for the people who love and care for the patient in pain. If they and their healthcare provider both agree that the best option to go for is mercy killing, then who are anti-euthanasia advocates to counter it?

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Emanuel, E. J., Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B. D., Urwin, J. W., & Cohen, J. (2016). Attitudes and Practices of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States, Canada, and Europe. JAMA, 316(1), 79–90. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.8499

Holland, K. (2019, May 31). Euthanasia: Understanding the Facts. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-euthanasia

McGee, A. (2019, February 28).  In places where it’s legal, how many people are ending their lives using euthanasia? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/in-places-where-its-legal-how-many-people-are-ending-their-lives-using-euthanasia-73755

ProCon.org. (2020). Euthanasia & Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) around the World. ProCon/Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.  https://euthanasia.procon.org/euthanasia-physician-assisted-suicide-pas-around-the-world/

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