“If we are to have free will, that free will should include not only how we live our lives, but how long we live them” (Taylor 2003, 30). Euthanasia, the specific term for assisted suicide, has been a century old controversy (Clarfield 2003, 38). Its leader in the controversy is Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who has assisted in over 30 deaths since 1990. Dr. Kevorkian claims that the medical, religious, journalistic and legal communities won’t stop him. Psychologist Joseph Richman says that, “All suicides, including the “rational,” can be an avoidance of or substitute for dealing with basic life-and-death issues.” So which is right, helping dying people to achieve their last wish, or waiting for God to do his part while the ill sit there and die slowly and painfully? Euthanasia should be legalized in the United States.
Hearing the negatives about euthanasia, the U.S. citizens need to also hear the good points of the topic. The question of who has the right to give or take life has played an important part in the history of technology, with designer babies and altering DNA. But it also contributes to the challenging question of who should be able to take another’s life as in physician’s aide, or euthanasia (Clarfield 2003, 38). In 1972, the Dutch Council of Health did their own study and decided that euthanasia should be legal. They stated that doctors needed to follow rules and regulations to assist with death (Clarfield 2003, 38).
Rob Jonquiere states that, “These reactions are often very hypocritical. Doctors all over the world perform euthanasia, but they don’t report it.” (Kolfschooten 2003, 1352) So even if euthanasia is not legalized, doctors may continue to perform the procedure. So why not legalize euthanasia anyway! “If your life is yours, then it is no one else’s business if you choose to discontinue having experiences” (Flynn 2003, 25).
Then the moral issue comes in. Do individual’s lives belong to God? Religious leaders will argue that God had control over everyone’s life until death, and physicians shouldn’t take that into their own hands. Although the conflict of euthanasia seems new, the actual procedure has been around since World War I (Clarfield 2003, 38). It became a strong issue in the 1920’s and 30’s, growing again in the 60’s and 70’s (Clarfield 2003, 38). New laws are still occurring, the last one updated by Dutch euthanasia describes new regulations on April first 2002 (Kolfschooten 2003, 1352). Many supporters of euthanasia also advocated sterilization laws (Payne 2003, 57). But are the supporters agreeing with euthanasia because of their feelings towards the ill? Seventy to eighty percent of people polled that they felt sympathetic towards the terminally ill (Payne 2003, 57). Even if this happens to be true, euthanasia still was morally acceptable in their views. Just like divorce, marrying outside of a persons’ racial class, and issues dealing with social classes, euthanasia shall overcome obstacles of moral, ethical, and political views with time. People just need to realize that keeping someone alive against their will, happens to be more morally wrong than giving them what they want and rightfully deserve.
Although euthanasia is illegal in the United States and its considered a taboo by most; some examples are shown in the following lines that would like to see physician-aided death prevail (Flynn 2003, 24). Freddie, who after being diagnosed with cancer refused chemotherapy as a treatment for the illness. He went in for surgery and had his bladder removed. A few days later the doctors told him that the surgery was unsuccessful, and the cancer had spread to other organs. Freddie’s first week in the hospital was unbearable, waking up to day after day of pain because of laws against assisted suicide. His had spent the last three weeks in the hospital, the last one of which he spent unconscious, hooked up to machines. With a needle in each arm: one to keep him alive, and the other to keep him asleep safe from the pain (Taylor 2003, 29-30).
Sidney Cohen was diagnosed with cancer in November and was told that he would die within three months. By January 1st, Sidney was in pain, and bed-bounded praying for euthanasia. He was allowed only to drink water for six weeks, and became desperate, isolated, and frightened (Arthur 2002, 1). Sidney had no reason to live his life, because in his position his life couldn’t be acceptable. People should be able to decide if their life amounts to a “life not worthy to be lived,” as Dr. Leo Alexander said that the euthanasia debate started with this question. Alexander said that there would be a rising time of death with dignity movement, or assisted suicide, which Oregon has now legalized (Washington 2002, 1). The law legalizing euthanasia became a landmark law for the Oregon people when they received adequate pain relief (Washington 1991, 1).
If the option of euthanasia is not available to some, the ill may take their own life as Carol Ezzell did. She did not qualify for physician aide in Holland. So she took her own life in a needlessly vile way, and her loved ones had no chance to say their last goodbyes. Because of Carol’s many years of anguished sickness and the doctors only promising worse to come, she did not see any other solution to her problem (Flynn 2003, 25). That brings us back to the controversy of should euthanasia be legalized? Yeah, there happen to be ways to live longer for those that are not quite on their deathbed, but it is the patient’s decision if they don’t want to live longer. Is it not?
Having so many ways to misuse euthanasia, the United States has not passed a bill to legalize. Most doctors today in the United States that have patients in a comatose state do what their family feels happens to be right or with his or her own discretion. And if that is keeping them asleep until their last minutes of life, most doctors consider what they call terminal sedation, legal in the United States (Kolfschooten 2003, 1352). “Physicians the world over administer pain-killing drugs to terminally ill patients that have the effect of killing them. The difference is that we do it openly,” says Henk Leenen, lawyer of the medical ethics department (Wright 2003, 1061). Doctors can sneak around the euthanasia debate this way. They call it the administration of a sedative medication to ease pain and agony. Doctors in the Netherlands use terminal sedation to get around having to get a second opinion. Although this technique will help the patient out tremendously it is proved that the sleep inducing drugs ends lives early (Kolfschooten 2003, 1352).
Using euthanasia properly in the United States, there needs to be a system of rule that is followed religiously. The Netherlands adopted the first laws that allowed euthanasia to be legal. The Dutch euthanasia regulations were set into law on April first of 2002 and Henk Leenen says that all it needs to do to stay legal is follow the guidelines that the Dutch Medical Society introduced, while Europe allows the issue (Wright 2003, 1061). The rules and regulations have to be followed in order to qualify for the procedure in the Netherlands; the rules include these four regulations: (1) that the patient would have to be 21 years of age or older (2) to be “of sound mind” (3) to be suffering from severe physical pain (4) and to have an incurable ailment (Clarfield 2003, 38). Although the ESA (Euthanasia Society of America) proposed a bill in the United States that would make the patient have to petition the courts and other doctors would have to examine the patient for the treatment before euthanasia to be performed, however the bill did not pass (Clarfield 2003, 38). The United States should come up with rules like the Netherlands did, or just use regulations that they came up with. US doctors or doctors in general are not hanging over the bedside of these ill people trying to save money for the hospital or for the persons’ family (Payne 2003, 57).
I think that Wesley Smith stated it best when he said, “We all age. We fall ill. We grow weak. We become disabled. A day comes when our need to receive from our fellows adds to far more than our ability to give in return. When we reach that stage of life…will we still be deemed persons entitled to equal protection under the law?” I certainly hope so. When I get old I want to have the right to choose to end my life. I want my rights that were guaranteed to me in the United States Constitution about my personal freedom. I would like to be able to do what I please without the government running my life. I thought that happens to be what a capitalism government is all about. Being to do what you want, when you want to, without some official questioning your sanity.
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Euthanasia is a serious political, moral and ethical issue in today’s society. Most people either strictly forbid it or firmly favor euthanasia. Although, I have no political background or confirmed religion, I choose to formally educate myself on the matter of euthanasia. I feel very strongly about this issue because I am affected by the matter on an almost everyday basis. I am a patient care technician in an emergency room and also work on a cardiac unit in one of Michigan’s top 100 osteopathic hospitals. I’ve actually watched people in pain eventually die. I’ve had to listen to patients beg me to, “pull plugs,” and put pillows over their faces to smother them so they could die faster. Terminally ill patients have a fatal disease from which they will never recover. Euthanasia is when a terminally ill patient chooses to end his/her own life by participating in physician-assisted suicide. After reading the ten sources and extensively researching euthanasia, I still support and promote the legalization of euthanasia. I believe that all people deserve the right to die with dignity.
First of all, I would like to offer my own personal feelings and opinions on the matter of euthanasia because I actually have frequent contact with people who suffer with terminal illnesses. When I was a junior in high school I was offered the opportunity to explore my career options by pursuing advanced learning in the medical field. I attended regular high school for one half of the day, the other half of my day was spent in a nursing home (extended care facility), Port Huron Hospital and also at St. Clair Technology Center. I spent many hours studying medical terminology and proper body mechanics, I also learned how to take care of sick patients while promoting healthy life styles changes. Unfortunately the hardest lesson which was the how to take care of the terminally ill, while being supportive to their many physical, spiritual and emotional needs. I graduated from high school and proceeded to go to college in order to accomplish my goal of becoming a registered nurse. After graduation I moved into my own apartment and took a job at St. John’s Medical Center on an oncology/hospice unit.
I worked at St. John’s for 18 months. Hospice is where terminally ill patients are sent to be cared for during the last stages of their lives. Oncology is the study of tumors, but more specifically, it’s a term usually associated with some kind of cancer. Therefore, for about a year and a half I had to take care of dying patients. These people had a slim chance of surviving for over six months to a year. When my patients were suffering and in pain I had to smile and tell them, “Don’t worry everything will be all right.” We both knew that everything would no be all right and they had just wanted to die. I witnessed patients telling other members of the nursing staff how they had begged and pleaded with god to take their life due to the excruciating pain they were experiencing. The nurse just replied, “Oh sweetie, you shouldn’t say things like that.” I had patients who were so mean and cruel to staff, it was unreal. They were mad at life because they knew it would be taken away soon. I’ve watched patients who were fully coherent and self-sufficient upon admittance in to the hospital become totally confused and bed bound. I watched these people lose all motor skills, which left them crippled and unable to feed or bathe themselves, or even use the toilet. They had lost all of their dignity.
After reading Peter Singer and Mark Sielger’s, “Euthanasia-A Critique,” it is fair to say that these doctors have put forth a strong argument against euthanasia. Singer and Siegler are both medical doctors who are very proficient in their fields. Singer and Siegler make the point that, “the relief of pain and suffering is a crucial goal of medicine,” however, “euthanasia violates the fundamental norms and standards of traditional medicine” (Seyler 333& 335). When a person no longer has the choice of continuing a normal healthy life, unusual circumstances call for rare methods of treatment. Why should a person be tortured with the, “frightening prospect of dying shackled to a modern-day Procrustean bed, surrounded by the latest forms of high technology,” according to Singer and Siegler this is an adamant fear of many fatally ill patients (Seyler 333). Singer and Siegler make several good points in their essay, however, pain control seems to be the biggest issue facing the terminally ill as stated by the doctors. This is entirely untrue. People who are faced with a terminal illness experience just as much emotional turmoil as physical pain. When Singer and Siegler say, “physical pain can be relieved with the appropriate use of analgesic agents,” I am saddened because it has been my own personal experience to watch terminally ill patients become over medicated and drugged up so much that they are unable to think or act for themselves (Seyler 333). When a person can longer speak, think or act for him or herself, that person has been stripped of their dignity.
Sidney Hook’s, “In Defense of Voluntary Euthanasia,” was emotionally charged and very gripping. Sidney Hook is a philosopher, educator and author (Seyler 338). Hook has been so unfortunate as to have sampled death and was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He suffers with congestive heart failure, which one can live with but which if not treated or maintained properly will cause a painful death.
He offers his first hand account of meeting with the Grim Reaper:
I lay at the point of death. A congestive heart failure was treated for diagnostic purposes by an angiogram that triggered a stroke. Violent and painful hiccups, uninterrupted for several days and nights, prevented the ingestion of food. My left side and one of my vocal chords became paralyzed. Some form of pleurisy set in, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of slime. (338)
If this sharp use of imagery isn’t enough to make the reader understand this mans pain, maybe his next account will persuade one to rethink euthanasia, “At one point, my heart stopped beating; just as I lost consciousness, it was thumped back into action again. In one of my lucid intervals during those days of agony, I asked my physician to discontinue all life-supporting services or show me how to do it. He refused and predicted that someday I would appreciate the unwisdom of my request” (Seyler 338). It is important to add Hook’s quotes when reflecting upon his personal experience with death. Hook feels as though he was robbed of the peaceful serenity of death and will have to suffer through it once more, when death comes knocking again.
Euthanasia is a serious issue in today’s political world. Arguments for and against euthanasia are cause for major debate.
Proponents and opponents disagree on at least four controversial issues. The four major issues are, but not limited to, the nature autonomy, the role of beneficence, the distinction between active and passive euthanasia and the public and social implications of legalization. The nature of autonomy basically means that all people are granted the right to think, feel and act for him or herself. The first and fourteenth amendments were put into place to protect an individual’s freedom of religion, speech, privileges, immunities, and equal protection. The role of beneficence involves the physician’s duty to relieve suffering. The distinction between passive and active euthanasia, or killing and allowing one to die. The public and social implications of legalization are totally based on one’s individual feelings.
Euthanasia is a serious topic because it goes against the norms of traditional medicine. Euthanasia is not always applied to terminally patients either. People who have been in serious accidents, or who have debilitating diseases such as severe cases of Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Vascular Diseases (which lead to strokes and heart attacks) are often in consideration for the application of euthanasia. The problem is, however, these patients typically are in a persistent/permanent vegetative state. A persistent/permanent vegetative state (PVS), is a condition in which a person is neither in a coma nor unconscious. In other words, these patients cannot act or speak for themselves or in addition, respond to much stimulus.
Personal experience and opinion may be a factor that weighs heavily on the issue of euthanasia, but the real substance comes from the facts. The legal ramifications play a major role in the legalization of euthanasia. Euthanasia began with its roots in both the Hippocratic tradition and the Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of life, Western medicine has long opposed the practice of physician-assisted suicide. However, the controversy over euthanasia is not new. Beginning in about 1870 (after the introduction of chloroform and ether) and continuing in today’s society, euthanasia is still a hot topic of discussion. Ohio is the only state in the United States of America that does not explicitly prohibit euthanasia by jurisdiction of the federal law.
After interviewing Dr. Caleb Dimitrivich, an oncologist, who most directly works with terminally ill patients at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, it is easy to see that he definitely opposes euthanasia. Doctors have real difficulty dealing with death. “Dying is something that I, as doctor, am trying to prevent. If a patient is terminally ill, I strive to make that patients life as comfortable as I possibly can,” says Dr. Dimitrivich. After reading, Matters of Life and Death,” by Professor Lewis Wolpert, one is reminded by the’ “doctors attitude” towards dying patients. Wolpert is a professor of biology and how teaches how biology is applied to medicine “Dying is something patients are not allowed to do. It is an affront to so go against the doctor’s efforts and advice, and this is completely understandable but cannot be the basis for not helping a patient die” (Wolpert 42).
The religious community has taken a negative stance on the issue of euthanasia. The majority of Christian religions ban the application of euthanasia to the terminally ill or PVS patients. In the bible, one can read about the absolute sin of taking another human being’s life, it is iniquitously wrong. After interviewing Maryanne Chapman who is a practicing member of the Catholic faith and who has also worked as a secretary for 15 years at St. Valerie of Ravenna in Clinton Township, MI, her opposition to legalized euthanasia is very clear. “It is a crime against God to end a life,” states Chapman. However, Maryanne is 72 years old and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also makes the comment, “people don’t live on machines, so therefore why should we die on them, God didn’t intend for that.” Basically what Mrs. Chapman is trying to say is that for patients suffering with a PVS, it is also a sin to try to sustain a life that has no purpose or function in society.
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