Putting the Euthanasia Debate to Death

Is euthanasia morally wrong?

The act of euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is one of the most highly divided issues of our times, specifically when it comes to active euthanasia. Active euthanasia is when a patient instructs a doctor to perform an action with the intention of ending the life of the patient. Many people, typically those with religious roots, believe that there should not be a policy which allows for active euthanasia. Supporters of active euthanasia, on the other hand, support it in the very specific cases where the quality of life of the individual has become worse than death and will continue to be that way for the remainder of their life.

The majority of people believe the act of passive euthanasia, or “pulling the plug”, is morally acceptable in certain cases where the individual’s life will be less than life-worthy for the remainder of the life, the patient chooses to have passive euthanasia, and there are no other options to enhance or prolong the life of the individual. Passive euthanasia can easily be justified by the unbearable amount of suffering experienced by the individual desiring the passive euthanasia. Who are we to tell these consenting adults that they must continue to live in unbearable pain for a prolonged period? However, is there really always a difference between passive and active euthanasia?

Many people may claim that active euthanasia is not morally acceptable and that it is not an acceptable alternative to traditional medicine. They support this belief because they believe medicine’s only role is to preserve and promote health. These people also typically believe that there is a clear distinction between killing through a lethal injection (active euthanasia) and allowing for a patient to die by omitting treatment (passive euthanasia). I object to this claim by demonstrating an analogous example which shows how the distinction between letting die and killing does not always exist. For example, imagine that the mother of an infant decides to intentionally omit food from her child which causes this child to starve to death. It is intuitive to believe that this mother is responsible for killing this child by allowing the child to die. Every person is dependent on something for life and if there is a person responsible for supplying this and has the ability to provide this, then the individual should be held responsible for that death if they purposely do not. Both the doctor and the mother are responsible for someone and have the ability to preserve the life of that person by providing the thing they are dependent on for preserving life. If the doctor chooses to “pull the plug” then through his action of omitting a treatment he is also responsible for the patient’s death. Because killing is defined as an act of deliberately causing death, then the doctor has essentially killed his patient. However, it is important to note that we should not charge the doctor with murder because we should also respect the individual’s autonomy in a time of never-ending suffering.

If we accept purposeful omission of treatment as killing, then the biggest difference between passive and active euthanasia is the amount of suffering involved. In passive euthanasia the patient chooses to refuse treatment which will usually lead to their death within a short time which is usually accompanied with a tremendous amount of suffering. In active euthanasia the patient chooses to shorten this span of suffering with the use of lethal injections administered by a doctor. In both cases the doctor is respecting the autonomy of the patient in a time of never-ending suffering and is committing an action which will lead to the death of the patient. It seems that the difference between these two forms of euthanasia are nonexistent in the majority of cases. Therefore, if you believe it is morally acceptable to “pull the plug” you must also believe it is morally acceptable to administer a lethal injection to the individual whose life conditions have become worse than death (if it is the patient’s choice). Many people may fear that if we allow active euthanasia for individuals who are terminally ill then this would create a slippery slope phenomenon for others who would also like to use active euthanasia while not being in never-ending suffering. I believe that active euthanasia should be used exclusively for patients who are terminally ill, will be experiencing conditions which are worse than life-worthy for the remainder of their lives, and no other medical options are available to create life-worthy conditions. Some may object to this by stating that the process of determining whether those qualifications are met would be too subjective and would be abused. However, it seems that these problems would be nonexistent if proper regulation and standards were set in place.

Have any objections? Let me know in the comments section below!

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3 Responses

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  1. dapperdolly
    Jul 15, 2014 - 03:54 AM

    I think I think most people who are against it from the point of view that it is wrong rather than fearing it could create a slippery slope, are at root scared about responsibility and blame. The idea of killing a suffering person is deply unsettling to them particularly if someone they cared about or they themselves were ‘put to death’. However there’s a lot less concern about doing the same to non-human animals and for barely any reason such as a horse breaking its leg. By saying it’s wrong then no one can be to blame it seems and it’s sad that the patients/people are suffering but ‘oh well what can we do other than make them as comfortable as possible or ignore them, either way not paying respect to their feelings because we’re scared of doing the deed.’ This life comes with a lot of hard decisions, it’s one thing to discuss and prolongue but for how long whilst the suffering continues in between. I think some people don’t see the difference between murder and mercy killing.

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  2. Michael S.
    Jul 28, 2014 - 12:38 PM

    I can’t believe that euthanasia still isn’t legal in certain states! This needs to change soon. Great post

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  3. kenztrendz
    Aug 07, 2014 - 03:16 PM

    I heard a really good story on this very subject this morning on NPR. It is such a dicey issue. If a person is terminally ill with no will to live, why should they be forced to suffer until their illness takes them? Why not part this world when you still have your wits about you and can say goodbye to the ones you love and recognize them and make the departure sentimental? I really don’t think there should be any debate on the issue either. We talk about pets as being just animals, but will equate them to best friends and a part of the family…I wouldn’t want to see an animal suffer any more than a human and vice versa. If we can hold the fate of our ill pets in our hands, why can’t a sick human being who is in the right frame of mind to decide how to end their life able to do just that? It’s funny that in CA it is banned. I wonder the reasoning for that? We are supposed to be more ethical, progressive, etc., so is the reason it was banned in the first (like the death penalty) to show how compassionate we are? That we could never condone killing another human being? Even if it were assisted on the request of the person suffering? We act as if we are being compassionate and stand against immoralities, but in my opinion, it is immoral to allow someone to suffer and become just a piece of the person they once were because of an illness. You know, the more I think about, the more I wonder how rooted religion is in this debate…even though I haven’t heard it mentioned as a factor all that much. Isn’t it against many western religions to commit suicide?

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