Mercy killing or Euthanasia is a topic broadcasting numerous controversies not only in the United States of America but in international legal and medical institutions. Defined as “Suicide accomplished with the aid of another person, especially a physician,” and “The act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment” euthanasia provides the escape for a patient in extreme pain, both emotional and physical. However, society is constantly debating over the morality of the practice with the main question being: Is it truly moral for a person (specifically, a medical professional) to help someone die if the patient is terminally ill, in pain and makes the decision to put an end to the torturous moments? The answer is yes, it is moral and the legal systems should support doctors and nurses in this noble practice by legalizing euthanasia. No one should suffer through a disease that is definitely going to end one’s life but the practice is illegal in majority of countries worldwide. However, this is the case only with voluntary euthanasia as involuntary mercy killing is blatantly a murder crime.
It is quite interesting and ironic that committing a good deed for another is considered ethically and lawfully illegal. The truth is that euthanasia is not a crime and needs to be stopped being treated as one. The procedure involves a painless injection which peacefully allows a patient to say farewell to this life and others around him or her. When opposing parties condemn euthanasia’s legalization, they forget that as with other rights, one should be able to exercise the right to choose between living and dying when a painful death is inevitable. For example, the constitution gives citizens the right to free speech and with it comes the right to remain silent as well. Similarly, abstinence is practiced by many with the right to vote. Opponents argue that once a life is terminated, so are its future choices, meaning the choice to turn back; however, the targets here are terminally ill patients who have nothing but darkness and pain in their horrifying futures (Humphry, 2005).
In contrast to traditional suicide, assisted suicide should have a higher noble status in society. People who commit suicide practice cowardice by secretly shunning society’s cruelties and injustices and taking their own lives violently. Running away from worldly pressures, these people not only do an injustice to themselves but also to people around them, such as family members and friends. Everyone is left in shock and bewildered at what went wrong in the person’s life. What is more, suicide is not considered a crime, no matter how violently it is attempted or accomplished. Dr. de Jhong states when speaking about euthanasia as an escape for the ill elderly, “Suicide is not illegal, you can always do that. But you need a way. Old people are less mobile and there are fewer good ways. And some of the ways we know are really awful” (Jolly, 2012). In the case of euthanasia, the procedure follows a carefully planned and structured routine, which involves providing therapy for family members ahead of time and helping the patients to bond with friends and relatives (Jolly, 2012).
In his book, Final Exit, Derek Humphry clears misconceptions about euthanasia and supports people who opt for it by educating them and guiding them on the subject, often stressing personal will and control over choices. He states, “If you want personal control and choice over your final exit, it will require forethought, planning, documentation, good friends, and decisive, courageous action by you” (2007, pg. 3). The loved ones are an active part of the entire process and at times, through the bonding and therapy, the patient might even choose an alternative to assisted suicide, willing to try other treatments or simply stay for the sake of the family. However, the imperative issue here is that the choice is entirely the patient’s and even if the assisted suicide is completed, it is done willingly and should be morally accepted. According to researchers and ethical analysts at BBC News Network, “Giving everybody the right to have a good death through euthanasia is acceptable as a universal principle, and that euthanasia is therefore morally acceptable” (2012).
Furthermore, extreme pressure is unfairly placed on the doctors who develop personalized and close relationships with their patients, which is the sign of a great medical professional. They are able to understand what the patients are going through and desire to help them by respecting their decisions. However, they are unable to conduct euthanasia because of its illegality. Those who condemn assisted suicide applaud modern medicine and place it on an unrealistic, idealistic pedestal, claiming that modern advancements in medicine can get rid of the physical pain. Unfortunately, these opposing parties fail to realize that man-made medicine is full of flaws, or side effects, and will never be able to completely alleviate pain. What is more, even if the pain is reduced or vanishes, the emotional pain and unease is extremely difficult to overcome. Deborah Annets, who is the chief executive of Dying with Dignity, a British charity organization for supporters of euthanasia said, “We get so many calls from terminally ill people saying, ‘people just let me die with dignity’ and we are committed to making this a reality” (2006).
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Essentially, the terminally ill patient is haunted all day, every day about his or her ultimate end and is unable to do anything about it. Because of these unrealistic and unfair limits, doctors engage in assisted suicides in secret out of their desires to fully aid their patients. Ann Marie Begley, author of the article Guilty but Good: Defending Voluntary Euthanasia from a Virtue Perspective claims that “the wrongdoer was perceived as a hero in adversity while the nurse who reported a crime was cast as villain” (Sellman, 2008). Being sarcastic here, she essentially makes a point that doctors and nurses who terminate a patient’s life are viewed as the villains, whereas when family members deciding to pull the plug from life support are applauded for being morally strong. Euthanasia is decided by the patient and his or her family and if anyone should be liable for accusations, it should be them and not the doctors who are simply carrying out the patient’s last wishes (Ganzini, 2007).
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Ideally, it would be better if these medical professionals could comfortably carry out euthanasia without fear of punishment and judgment. In fact, many countries such as the Netherlands and Australia have legalized assisted suicide. More than 3,000 patients undergo euthanasia on a yearly basis in the Netherlands and the practice was legalized in the early 1980’s. The two other places where euthanasia is legalized are the state of Oregon and Switzerland. Other countries such as England, Russia and the Republic of Ireland have harsh punishments for people who conduct assisted suicides. In the middle of these two spectrums are countries like Germany and Finland which do not have any punishments or legalization clauses for the practice. Even doctors have split opinions on the issue, and many have strongly voiced their opinions after the notorious case of Dr. Death, who helped over a hundred patients with assisted suicide. Dr. Death or Jack Kevorkian’s noble campaign was started with the sole intention of placing his patients out of misery and selflessly helping them to the fullest of his potential and capabilities (Humphry, 2005).
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Looking at the issue from a sociological theorist lens, there are two theories from which one may analyze euthanasia. Firstly, the conflict theory looks at the how euthanasia may be practiced in ways that indicate biases. For instance, studying the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands, the conflict theory seeks out patterns about those who requested euthanasia, in other words the patients. These patterns include things such as class, race, ethnicity, and gender which would all be examined thoroughly through this lens. Secondly, the functionalist theorist would study how euthanasia supports the mechanisms of society and how it affects them. Using the Netherlands as an example, functionalists look at how euthanasia helps families improve and cope with grief over a suffering relative in order to show how it can help a society overcome the agony. As an example, a recent study concluded that “Family members describe loved ones who pursue Physician Assisted Deaths as individuals for whom being independent and in control is important, who anticipate the negative aspects of dying, and who believe that the impending loss of self, abilities, and quality of life will be intolerable” (Ganzini, 2007).
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Staying firm about the initial hypothesis, it can affirmatively be restated that euthanasia is not a crime and should not be treated as one as it is the means for terminally ill patients to pass away with dignity and make their own decisions about how they want to die, just as one chooses how to live. Moreover, euthanasia’s main purpose is to relieve patients from their physical and emotional agonies and not constantly dread the moment of painful death. By studying various points of view, it can be concluded that there is countless research and debate on the topic, on both legal and moral grounds. Proponents of euthanasia are diligently working to reach a milestone in the movement and provide freedom for those that desperately require it. From charity movements to legal changes that have made history, supporters are using their highest potentials and pairing with medical professionals to get euthanasia the dignity it deserves. For instance, the state of Oregon has passed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, becoming the leader in the moral and legal movement (Manning, 2012).