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Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide, Egoism & Utilitarianism

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Danny Cross

Prof. Cecere

PHI 220-101M Ethics


Term Paper: Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide should be legalized in both voluntary and involuntary forms in cases of those beyond recovery and beyond a life worth living. The motion of dying as a blessing comes from Greek roots and roughly translates to “easy death”. Involuntary or passive forms of euthanasia would be like the removing of a feeding tube on a patient who has not been able to eat or chew food in over a year. Another term for passive euthanasia is withdraw of treatment, which is a better way of understanding exactly what separates it from voluntary euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is necessary when a person is no longer able to give their consent.  Voluntary or active euthanasia comes into play with those who are living, conscience and can communicate their want for a quick death (Vaughn, Doing Ethics, 2016).  This requires someone deliberately intervening to end someone’s life via drug overdose, or any other fashion of painless death. Most of those who are in situations where a vegetative state might be predictable or even probable outcome sign an advance directive. The name for situations like this is palliative care. Which is a fast-growing specialty which involves the care of patients who are terminally ill. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as “The active, total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment, control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems, is paramount” (News, 1999).

Euthanasia is “directly or indirectly bringing about the death of another person for that person’s sake”. (Vaughn, Doing Ethics, 2016)  Meaning that is a person’s life is no longer worth living or the chance of a recovery is just not a realistic possibility, in certain occasions intentionally killing them would be for the better. Many cases are that the person is only being kept alive by machines, for instance in the case of Terri Schiavo whose heart stopped beating in 1990. Her death took place on March 31 2005, keeping a person alive in a limbo status of life for an entire 15 years seems like cruelty. Due to severe brain damage, she was left alive but lacking any general awareness or intentional behavior. A judge allowed her feeding tube to be removed and she died 13 days later, the Vatican called this an “Attack on god”.  Many religious people do not think this is morally acceptable in any manor because if God had not intended this person be alive they would have never arrived at the hospital in time to receive the life support they needed when this incident occurred. In certain cases, it seems cruel to keep someone alive, when a person life is simply no longer living.

Those who are subject for a voluntary euthanasia make the topic from a moral standpoint so much more difficult to decide on the legal status of this and the moral grounds of it. If a person wants to die, because of their quality of live or lack thereof, it only seems merciful to allow this. A death of dignity is wanted by some who know their endings are near, some do not want family to remember them by who they will be by the time they die, other simply do not want to tolerate the pain and suffering that waiting for death entails. Want to skip the suffering of a long drawn out death due to multiple chronic diseases or terminal cancer causing their life to be a living nightmare. In cases of terminal cancer patients whose bodies have left them as a shell only awaiting death, it only seems just to do the patients this one justice and allow them to end their own life on their terms “Physician Aid in Dying (also known as “PAD”) or physician assisted suicide is the killing of a person’s own hand with the help of a physician (Vaughn, Doing Ethics, 2016). Those who are abruptly put into this state of limbo makes the matter even more complicated because they have no paperwork on what to do if their life hangs in the balance only according to machines. Without the consenting paper work they can only die via involuntary euthanasia or withdraw of care. The only way someone who is without paper work and in a situation with no possible recovery in sight to be euthanized is with the permission of the family or significant other.

This burden is a factor into the social dilemma that society is proposed with. If the family decides to take out the feeding tube or unplug the machines they are directly killing their relative. While someone may maintain a pro-euthanasia stance, put in the situation of having to choose to kill someone they love would be a tough moral dilemma.  On one hand, they are putting their relative out of their misery and not forcing them to die a long slow death, but choosing to pull the plug means that they are killing their loved one. This is a massive burden to bare for the remainder of one’s life knowing that they directly caused the death of a person let alone a loved one. For religious people, is it difficult to decide if this is a merciful decision or a moral sin. The doctor who removes the feeding tube is faced with the same dilemma, at the end of the day you are taking a life. Even if this life is propped up by three separate machines, the doctor is directly responsible for taking a life. This conflicts with almost every religion belief structure on Earth. Especially in the case of voluntary euthanasia where a person is living and functioning but wishes to die. If pulling the plug on a vegetable is not murder, active euthanasia is no matter how it is looked at. Despite the merciful intentions this brings the previously issue into a larger spot light. Killing a cancer patient who has three weeks left to live is merciful but it is still taking a life. This falls entirely on the doctors and a law makers that would allow this to be legalized. No one wants to be responsible for taking people’s lives, even if it is merciful and something they want. Religious leaders are against the purposeful ending of any life because they hold life to be sacred and believe in a higher power being in control. With a higher power in control they do not believe humans have the right to choose if someone lives or dies. Even for those who are not religious but have some remote value for human life would find this to be a difficult thing to perform. Including physician assisted suicide, the doctor is still responsible for the death of a person, facilitating a suicide does not mean the physician cannot still feel remorse.

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