What is the ethical dilemma on Euthanasia?

Research PaperEuthanasia
May 21, 2019

Euthanasia is the act of actively or passively allowing a patient to die. The procedure is legal in certain states but remains illegal in others . The division in euthanasia’s legality is due to many factors including the ethical dilemma surrounding the topic. On one side, euthanasia supporters believe that the process is ethical as it ends the suffering of a tormented patient. While opponents of euthanasia argue that the process is unethical as it diminishes the sanctity of life. This research paper will discuss the ethical dilemmas surrounding euthanasia that supporters and opponents use in their arguments.

Euthanasia and the Hippocratic Oath

One of the main ethical dilemmas on euthanasia is its potential incompatibility with the Hippocratic Oath that obligates physicians to “do no harm” to any patients. Opponents argue that since euthanasia procedures kill patients instead of healing them, it violates the Hippocratic Oath (Boudreau, 2011, cited in McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019). The American Medical Association (n.d.) also highlighted that euthanasia fundamentally contradicts the role of a healer since it ends a patient's life, which is the opposite of a physician's goal. Death is the ultimate result of an untreated illness or fatal harm and euthanasia is a process that grants death to patients. Therefore, euthanizing a patient does not align with “doing no harm” and providing medicine.

However, euthanasia supporters argue that the procedure alleviates the suffering of patients. Most euthanasia cases are voluntary and based on the decision of the patient. Euthanasia allows a patient to avoid further suffering and pain from their illnesses (McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019). Since the denial of euthanasia can lead to a patient’s prolonged suffering, one can argue that denying it causes harm. For instance, the euthanasia patient, Martha Sepúlveda fought for her right to euthanasia and argued that she was in constant pain (Subizar, 2022). The state’s initial denial of her euthanization made her depressed and miserable. Her case showed that inaction and not allowing a patient their right to die can be a form of harm as it prolongs their suffering.

Euthanasia and Religion

Religious belief is another factor that raises the ethical dilemma on euthanasia. Many religions teach that any form of killing is a mortal sin. Christians consider it ethically wrong since it violates the Fifth Commandment while Judaism frowns on suicide and assisted suicide, such as euthanasia (McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019). Since religious beliefs are influential aspects of a person’s life and society, it poses an ethical dilemma to physicians who must conduct euthanasia. For instance, a Christian physician may receive a euthanasia request from his client, giving him the responsibility to end their life. This obligation places them in an ethical dilemma between the patient’s request and their religion.

Furthermore, the legalization of euthanasia may require medical institutions to include euthanasia in student training. They will have to teach every student the proper approach in the process, including religious individuals. According to McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019), this may require physicians to work with clinical ethicists who will assist in ethical and philosophical reasoning. Religious individuals may need to set aside their beliefs and rely on philosophical rationalization to treat a patient. This does not only put them in an ethical dilemma but also places them in a conflict between their professional duty and beliefs.

Euthanasia and Human Life’s Value

Opponents of euthanasia argue that the procedure diminishes the value of human lives. Ending a human life because of the inconvenience of suffering and illness indicates a disregard for the value of life (McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019). While euthanasia allows an individual to escape their tormented life, it also prevents them from experiencing future joy. The decision to end their life suggests they do not consider living a privilege. If euthanasia becomes a fully legalized procedure, anyone can exercise their right to die, raising questions regarding the value of life. Euthanasia legalization can remove the relevance humans put on life since patients can easily end their life by requesting the procedure.

Alternatively, euthanasia supporters claim that the procedure can be a way for other patients to get another chance at life. Euthanasia patients can place their healthy organs for donation which can help other patients who are having problems finding a donor, thus saving the life of another individual (McKinnon & Orellana-Barrios, 2019). From this perspective, euthanasia becomes a way to emphasize the value of human life by extending the life of another individual. Euthanasia, from the perspective of the donor, is their way to value the sanctity of life and their body parts. Instead of continuing to live a miserable and painful short life, they can help another patient who may not live for more than a week without an organ transplant. 

Euthanasia and the Difficulty to Control It

Another dilemma that may occur from euthanasia is the difficulty of controlling it. According to the American Medical Association (n.d.), euthanasia is difficult or impossible to control and can lead to grave societal risks. While governments can create legislation to control euthanasia, there are still risks that certain groups may abuse the procedure. For instance, the Nazis utilized the concept of euthanasia to establish the Euthanasia Decree during World War II. Through this decree, the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of disabled individuals by involuntary euthanasia (Berenbaum, 2018). The international community could not act against it since it was exclusive in Germany and during war times. The Nazis utilized the concept of euthanasia to downplay the systemic killing of disabled individuals and other minorities.

Conclusion

Euthanasia raises ethical dilemmas that force physicians and patients to consider their actions. Euthanasia can alleviate the pain and suffering of a terminally ill patient. It can grant them peace from their tormented life and prevent them from experiencing more pain. Euthanasia can also be a way for terminally ill patients to help other individuals through organ donation. However, the active termination of life can lead to various risks that may violate legal oaths and religious beliefs and diminish the value of life. The ethical dilemmas on euthanasia prevent the full legalization or ban of the procedure, causing the ethical arguments to continue.

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References

Ama-assn.org. (n.d.). Euthanasia. American Medical Association. Available at https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/ethics/euthanasia#:~:text=Code%20of%20Medical%20Ethics%20Opinion%205.8,-Euthanasia%20is%20the&text=Euthanasia%20is%20fundamentally%20incompatible%20with,patients%20and%20other%20vulnerable%20populations .. Accessed: September 13, 2022.

Berenbaum, M. (2018). T4 Program. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at https://www.britannica.com/event/T4-Program. Accessed: September 14, 2022.

Emanuel, E., Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B., Urwin, J. & Cohen, J. (2016). Attitudes and Practices of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States, Canada, and Europe. JAMA. Available at doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8499. Accessed: September 13, 2022.

McKinnon, B. & Orellana-Barrios, M. (2019). Ethics in Physician-Assisted Dying and Euthanasia. Pulmonary Chronicles. Available at 10.12746/swrccc.v7i30.561. Accessed: September 13, 2022.

Pesut, B., Greig, M., Thorne, S., Storch, J., Burgess, M., Tishelman, C., Chambaere, K. & Janke, R. (2019). Nursing and Euthanasia: A Narrative Review of the Nursing Ethics Literature. Sage Journals, vol. 27(1). Available at https://doi.org/10.1177/0969733019845127. Accessed: September 13, 2022.

Subizar, P. (2022). This Woman Wanted to Die Before Her Illness Killed Her. She Finally Got Her Wish. NBC News. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/woman-wanted-die-illness-killed-finally-got-wish-rcna11672. Accessed: September 14, 2022.


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