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Euthanasia in Nursing

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Euthanasia is a term that originated from the Greek language: eu meaning “good” and thanatos meaning “death”. Generally, euthanasia implies the intentional termination of life that is initiated by a person who wishes to commit suicide. However, euthanasia has many meanings and as a result, has several terms that define and differentiate various types of euthanasia. For instance, passive euthanasia is altering a form of support thereby hastening the death of a person, i.e. removing life support or not delivering CPR. Causing the death of a person through a direct action and in response to the request of that person is considered active euthanasia. When information and/or the means are supplied by the physician to commit suicide, it is referred to as physician assisted suicide. Jack Kevorikian, a Michigan physician, injected a controlled substance into a terminally ill patient who had requested a quick, painless exit from life. He was charged with 1st degree murder and a jury found him guilty of 2nd degree murder in 1999.

Euthanasia dates back to the early 19th century and advocates use the same arguments today to justify it. They believe that people suffering from an incurable and fatal disease should be allowed by law to substitute for the slow and painful death, a quick and painless one. Advocates rationalize the latter by arguing that if it’s legal to curtail the duration of pain with medication, “the same reasoning that justifies a minute's shortening of it, will justify an hour's, a day's, a week's, a month's, a year's”. It is seen not only as a moral right, but also as an act of humanity.

Those who oppose euthanasia argue that legalizing it would result in abuse. One opponent claimed that physicians could use its legalization to “get rid” of an objectionable relative. As a result, the public would eventually question the trust of the medical profession. Opponents say it would also leave a patient pressured into requesting euthanasia to relieve family of their burden. They also argue that if euthanasia were legalized it would initially be for the terminally ill, then it would eventually be justified for the aged, incurable demented persons, and convicted murderers.

The American Nurses Association regards active euthanasia inconsistent with the Code for Nurses and is considered ethically unacceptable. It has been the role of a nurse to promote, preserve, and protect human life. As members of the profession, nurses are obligated to offer end of life care, which includes the promotion of comfort for pain and suffering, and foregoing life sustaining treatments.

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