Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) have long been held as end-of-life practices meant for “goof death”. In fact, according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided under the Declaration on Euthanasia, the practice of euthanasia was originally meant for actions or omissions that were intended to cause death and eliminate suffering among the patients (Manning 4). On the other hand, assisted suicide refers to actions taken by physicians to cause death by providing the patients with the means to commit suicide. In the recent times, euthanasia and PAS have evolved to mean actions and omissions that are intended to eliminate anxiety and pain or avoid suffering by deliberately withdrawing life-supporting processes or giving the patients lethal injections to hasten their death.
Generally, in the contemporary society, euthanasia can be categorized into passive euthanasia, which implies avoidance of medical practices that can prolong an individual’s life and active euthanasia whereby the physician administers medications that causes an individual’s death with or without the patient’s informed consent. Therefore, considering these modern practices under euthanasia and PAS, various ethical issues arise as far as the moral and legal basis of euthanasia and PAS is concerned. This paper begins by considering the arguments against euthanasia and PAS with the aim of supporting the thesis that euthanasia and PAS should not be permitted in the modern society. Subsequently, the paper highlights contrary views to this thesis by considering the reasons for euthanasia and PAS. Finally, the paper presents arguments against the reasons for euthanasia and PAS in order to emphasize the arguments as to why these end-of-life practices should not be permitted in the modern society.
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Reasons Against Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide
Many arguments arising from the religious, ethical, and public policy perspectives have been presented against the practices of euthanasia and PAS. The religious argument against euthanasia and PAS has been advanced by the Christians, Jewish, and Muslims whereby they have commonly argued that it is sinful for human beings to end life since human life is sacred, implying that it is the preserve of God to end it. Therefore, the religious argument strongly opposes the practices of euthanasia and PAS because they entail acts of human beings ending human life. Though this argument is not ethically strong, it serves to remind the religious people of the important teachings advanced by their respective religious denominations to the effect that they should not kill another human being (Devettere 338; Manning 15).
On the other hand, the ethical argument against euthanasia and PAS has been offered by medical ethicists who argue that based on the International Code of Medical Ethics, a doctor is obliged to preserve human life right from the time of conception to death. Therefore, it is not the ethical responsibility of a medical doctor to end life because that will imply abandonment of the very important obligation to preserve life. Moreover, medical ethicists present a very concrete argument in that by practicing euthanasia and PAS on a regular basis, medical doctors may be compelled to think that ending human life is a routine medical practice. This will lead to lack of compassion in medical practices, particularly when it comes to giving medical care to terminally-ill patients, disabled persons, and the elderly (Devettere 339). Further, lack of compassion for the patients’ interests on the part of medical doctors will in turn lead to distrust among patients with complex medical needs because they will no longer consider the efforts and intentions of their doctors as being in their best interests.
From the public policy perspective, the most common argument against euthanasia and PAS is referred to as the ‘slippery slope’ argument. According to this argument, it is not right to permit euthanasia and PAS as a public health policy because these practices may evolve from providing voluntary end-of-life care to incorporate other non-voluntary and involuntary acts (Devettere 340). This is a compelling argument against euthanasia and PAS considering that many patients with complex medical conditions and disabilities may lack the ability to make voluntary decisions, meaning that not all requests for these practices will be truly voluntary. Moreover, legalization of euthanasia and PAS will lead to many undesirable consequences such as lack of trust between the suffering patients and their physicians, increased cases of involuntary euthanasia, and more euthanasia requests from patients who are not terminally-ill or disabled (Devettere 342).
Reasons for Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide
Having considered the arguments against practicing euthanasia and PAS in the contemporary society, it is important to note that the proponents of euthanasia and PAS have also provided compelling arguments in favor of their case. One of the most common arguments provided in favor of euthanasia and PAS entails respect for patient self-determination. Here, people have argued that every individual has the right to decide whether they want to live or die. In fact, in the history of medical ethics, there is a consensus on the need to uphold two very important ethical principles in caring for patients. These ethical principles include: patient autonomy in which medical ethicists argue that every patient has the capacity to make decisions that directly affect his or her life; and patient self-determination whereby every patient possesses the freedom of choice in that they can decide to live or die (Devettere 334). As a result, these two ethical principles are commonly cited in arguments meant to justify the importance of euthanasia and PAS in the contemporary society. Therefore, in the modern society whereby people respect the basic rights of other human beings, it is not ethical to violate anyone’s rights as far as euthanasia and PAS requests are concerned.
Another important argument for euthanasia and PAS entails the need to relief patients of unnecessary suffering and pain. Accordingly, the proponents of euthanasia and PAS have argued that many patients with complex terminal illnesses or those with disabilities suffer from excruciating pain that causes suffering not only to the patients themselves, but also to their family members. Therefore, under such circumstances, it is considered morally right to end the patients’ life in order to relief them of suffering and pain. More specifically, by initiating euthanasia or PAS under circumstances where the patient’s pain is extreme and death inescapable, medical doctors show compassion and mercy for the patient’s suffering and pain. On the other hand, the proponents of euthanasia and PAS may argue that the two practices are already widespread, and hence, they should be considered normal to the contemporary medical practices. In fact, people have argued that some medical practices such as ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ (DNACPR), which is permissible in the modern medical practice incorporates some form of euthanasia (Devettere 338).
From the foregoing discussions, it is important to acknowledge that the reasons for and against euthanasia/assisted suicide are both compelling and strong in certain circumstances. But, in the long run, the arguments against euthanasia/assisted suicide have more weight compared to those in favor of the two practices. Most importantly, the arguments in favor of euthanasia/assisted suicide can be challenged in different ways. For instance, it is important to note that patients can exercise their freedom of choice by deciding whether to live or die, but it is equally imperative to note that no decision is morally justifiable just because it can be chosen. Moreover, respect for patient autonomy and self-determination can justify euthanasia and PAS if only the patient making the request has the capacity to make an informed decision. Therefore, the argument for euthanasia and PAS based on patient autonomy and self-determination is not strong as it is.
Further, the argument that euthanasia and PAS should be permitted just because they are meant to relief suffering and pain is limited to the extent that the individuals with indefinite coma and other medical needs should not be given euthanasia or PAS because they do not experience suffering or pain. Moreover, the current advancements in the field of medicine provide better and accurate ways of managing pain, and hence, the argument for euthanasia/assisted suicide based on relief of suffering and pain cannot hold. Overall, based on the foregoing discussions, it is important to note that the case against euthanasia and PAS presents strong and compelling reasons to warrant the conclusion that euthanasia and PAS should not be permitted in the contemporary society.
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