Assisted suicide/euthanasia is a crucial topic within the nursing field and according to Paterson (2003), people are now embracing the idea that human life has a natural end. She further reiterates that one should not prolong life simply because there is a possibility of treatment or because of the capacity of current medical technology. This raises serious concerns with regard to the ethical and principle matters. Is it right or wrong to help those who desire to die? The right to life is a basic right, and assisted suicide is about taking a human life, and as such infringes on the patient’s right to life. Even under circumstances where there is no hope of cure, legalizing the concept of euthanasia raises the possibility of the killing of people for flimsy reasons. How can society avoid murder that is carried out in the pretext of euthanasia? On the other hand, is it fair to preserve the life of a person indefinitely even in cases where there is no hope of a cure, or under circumstances where a person can never recover his or her consciousness? These serious moral concerns do not yield any easy answers.
Despite the moral and ethical minefield that euthanasia is, medical personnel ought to embrace this concept and administer it where necessary. Euthanasia is a method through which a person’s dignity can be preserved at the end of their life and it comes in different forms (Bonin 2012). Passive euthanasia is a form of euthanasia that entails withholding of life supporting procedures or equipment to patients who are rendered dependent and there are no religious or legal oppositions to this type of euthanasia. In contrast to this, there is also active euthanasia which is the intentional causing of death of a person through specific intervention actions and this form of euthanasia has faced both legal and religious objections.
Voluntary euthanasia is yet another form of euthanasia which occurs when a patient requests or chooses to die and it is legally debatable. Involuntary euthanasia is another form of euthanasia which may be performed without the patient requesting or consenting to die and is, technically, illegal to perform. Lastly, there is a form of euthanasia that can occur as a result of omission and it entails intentionally causing the death of a person, by withholding the care that is necessary to sustain their life. This form of euthanasia is outright illegal.
Euthanasia is, therefore, already a popularly discussed and well known issue but it is only some types of euthanasia, which people object to. The advancement in medical technology is both a blessing and a curse because on the one hand it has created avenues for prolonging human life yet it can also lead to the prolonging of human suffering. Through technology, it is possible to slow down the inevitability of death and patients can now live through an agonizingly painful and slow death (Paterson 2003). This raises the question of the value of keeping alive terminally ill patients, with no hope of recovery.
There are numerous reasons why euthanasia is administered. First and foremost is the ethical aspect. Human beings have the right to make choices regarding their lives and as such, governments should not pass legislation that curtail an individual’s right to make their own choice. This ought to be considered particularly in cases where the choices made by an individual do not in any way infringe on the rights of other people. If a terminally ill patient with full mental faculties requests for euthanasia, why should they be denied this choice? Some people are specific in their own wills, and specify that should they become incapacitated under particular conditions, their caregivers should withdraw medical attention.
These individuals write such wills with the full knowledge that there are chances of such exceptional medical conditions described happening. In such cases the person has made a choice and explicitly stated so and should these circumstances arise, the caregivers ought to honor the patient’s wishes. While it has been argued that the current wishes may change with time, it is difficult to know the thoughts of a patient in, who may be for instance in a comma. It is therefore more reasonable to fulfill the wishes that were made when the patient had their full mental faculties. Advances in medical sciences should not deprive a patient of the right to choice because this particular right is a fundamental one, and no one should curtail it as long as the choice does not affect the rights of others.
Euthanasia is also important for pragmatic reasons. The care of terminally ill patients is not only stressful but also quite expensive. Consider the case of a patient who is in the last stage of cancer. Such a patient cannot hope for a cure and may be experiencing a lot of pain in which case, it makes no sense to prolong this patient’s life. Caregivers owe a duty of kindness to the patient and there will be no better act of kindness than to help the patient out of their misery of suffering and pain. The high cost for palliative care can cause a lot of emotional suffering for both the patient and his or her relatives and ultimately decrease the quality of life for the patient as well as their relatives.
Using euthanasia in such cases is important as it helps in improving the quality of life of the patient who does not have to worry too much about the pain, but can choose the time and manner in which they die. There are also cases where a patient is brain dead but kept alive artificially and would never recover or live independently of their life support systems. There is no logic for keeping such a patient alive indefinitely because this does not make any moral or economic sense.
Euthanasia is also essential because of the fact that laws in many nations target the innocent. A case in point is a patient by the name Marie Fleming, from Ireland, who requested for euthanasia after succumbing to multiple sclerosis. She was experiencing intense pain and wanted her partner to help her to die yet the court ruled against her plea and threatened the partner with 14 years of imprisonment were he to honor her request and help her to die. This targeting of a caregiver who wants to carry out a patient’s wish is wrong because it also affects and in fact punishes the patient who is already suffering from unimaginable pain.
Despite their varied differences, both the opponents and proponents of euthanasia agree that there is a difference between living and existing. When a person exists, their quality of life is very low and more often than not, patients who exist have neither perception of themselves nor their surroundings. Such patients are usually in a vegetative state and most of them have no medical hope of ever recovering. In spite of the fact that medical technologies can keep them alive for an indefinite period, the patients merely exist without living meaningfully.
The biggest fear that people have is that making euthanasia legal will create a death on demand culture. Holland is one of the few countries that has already legalized euthanasia and from its experience there is no conclusive evidence that legalizing the practice has resulted in a significant growth in the number of euthanasia cases. There are no facts to back the fear linked with the legalization of the practice. Euthanasia does not amount to shortening the life of terminally ill patients, but rather is a technique used as a last resort when all other intervention measures have failed. It is therefore necessary to legalize euthanasia so that trained medical personnel can assist patients instead of letting them suffer at the end of their lives.
There has been an increase in the support for the concept of euthanasia among the population. People have come to the realization that exceptional circumstances come up and these require unconventional solutions. Western nations may be democracies, but they cannot ignore the viewpoints of a majority of citizens.
Paterson, I (2003). The ethics of assisted suicide. Nursing Times.net. Retrieved from http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/practice-nursing/the-ethics-of-assisted-suicide/205710.article
Bonin, A. (2012, February 20). Human euthanasia, the debate: The arguments for both sides. Examiner.com. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/human-euthanasia-the-debate-the-arguments-for-both-sides