Ethical Issue: Euthanasia
Euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” meaning good or well and “thanatus” meaning death. Thus, euthanasia means good or merciful death. It refers to the practice of terminating a life of a terminally ill patient to relieve him or her from pain and suffering. This practice has been the focus of great controversy for years.
Forms of Euthanasia
Euthanasia comes in several different forms, each of which brings a different set of rights and wrongs.
- Active – death is brought by an ACT. It entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill. This is the most controversial form of euthanasia.
- Passive – death is brought about by an OMISSION. It entails the withholding of treatments such as administration of antibiotics or any drugs or intervention necessary for the continuance of life. Switching off the machine that keeps the person alive and withholding the surgery that may extend the life of the person is under this form of euthanasia.
- Voluntary euthanasia – when euthanasia is conducted with a patient’s consent it is classified as voluntary euthanasia. This type of euthanasia is often termed as assisted suicide, as the patient’s decision of killing himself is assisted by the physician. Voluntary euthanasia is made legal in countroes susch as Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and the US states of Oregon and Washington.
- Non-voluntary euthanasia – when a patient is unconscious or is still a child and unable to make meaningful choices between living and dying, and an appropriate person takes the decision on their behalf non-voluntary euthanasia is practiced.
- Involuntary Euthanasia – In cases where the dying patient chooses life but is killed anyway the classification falls under this type.
- Indirect euthanasia – providing treatment that has the side effect of speeding up the patient’s death falls under this category. This is usually by people as morally acceptable as the primary intention is not to kill but to treat the underlying disease condition.
Ethical Arguments on Euthanasia
Those who are against mercy killing have the following ethical arguments:
- Euthanasia might not be promoting the patient’s best interests.
- Slippery slope argument: if voluntary euthanasia were to become legal in countries nationwide, most probably involuntary euthanasia will be committed at a higher rate. Doctors soon may start killing terminal patients involuntarily.
- Accepting euthanasia means admitting that some people’s lives are more worth than others.
- It weakens the society’s respect for the holiness of life.
- People have the right to die.
- Euthanasia causes no harm to others and the state, thus, other people have no right to interfere with it.
- Euthanasia once made legal can be regulated, thus, preventing the incidence of involuntary euthanasia.
- Allowing a terminally ill patient to die would free the family from financial problems.