Euthanasia: a subject of human rights debate
Euthanasia, sometimes called ‘mercy killing,’ literally means ‘good death’ (from the Greek words eu, ‘well,’ and thanatos, ‘death’). Beckwith and Geisler define euthanasia as the intentional taking of a human life for some good purpose, such as to relieve suffering or pain. By this definition we understand that ‘Euthanasia’ signifies the taking of an adult life, though it can refer generally to taking any life after birth for supposed benevolent purposes. Euthanasia (killing an adult), voluntary euthanasia (the patient has requested a desire to end life), involuntary euthanasia (a third party, usually a close relative, decides to end life), active euthanasia (producing death), passive euthanasia (permitting death), suicide (killing self), infanticide (killing an infant or child), and even genocide (killing an entire race) are the same in theory (killing for supposed benevolent ends); they differ only in application.
Euthanasia, or voluntary assisted suicide, has been the subject of much moral, religious, philosophical, legal and human rights debate in most of the countries in the world. It raises some questions such as whether people will continue to seek medical treatment and live or die as a result of their choice of treatment. At the core of this debate is how to reconcile competing values: the desire of individuals to choose to die with dignity when suffering, and the need to uphold the inherent right to life of every person, as recognized by Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life” (ICCPR, 1976).
In my opinion it is very wise and important to question ourselves whether we are for euthanasia or against it. Let’s ask few questions to ourselves. Am I preserving my life or prolonging death? Am I taking my life, or allowing a natural death? What are my intentions, to end a life prematurely, or to avoid death? Do I desire the removal of non-beneficial treatment, or death itself? Will the patient who dies be a victim of euthanasia, or a victim of a fatal ailment? Am I providing the patient with natural means of sustaining life (food, water, air), or artificial means? If you have to answer these difficult questions one day regarding the care of a loved one, you must remember your basic moral obligation: to prolong life, not to prolong death.
As a euphemism, the term ‘euthanasia’ conceals what it really is: physician assisted death. Imagine euthanasia's impact on medicine. People naturally trust doctors, understanding a doctor's obligation to protect life. This gives doctors undue power and influence over their patients. I want solid assurance that my doctor will try everything in his power to cure, to save, and to ease the pain of my illness. A doctor's role is to save life, not to end it. Anything that blurs that trust and makes doctors less sensitive to their obligations to save life is unacceptable and will have devastating effects in the field of medicine. The Hippocratic Oath is explicit that the role of a physician is to preserve human life and not to be instrumental in its destruction. The oath stated ‘To please no one will prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.’ ‘Primum non nocere’ is another famous adage that warns doctors at all costs not to harm their patients (Clarke & Egal, 2009).
The declaration of Geneva, adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva, is a declaration of physicians’ dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine, states that;
“I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient. I will not use any medical knowledge to violate human rights and maintain the utmost respect for human life” (The World Medical Association Declaration of Geneva, 1948).
Many religions prohibit suicide and the intentional killing of others. The most basic commandment is "Thou shall not kill". Virtually all religions have a law against killing. We need to protect the morality of not only the patients but the doctors that must extinguish their lives. St. Thomas Aquinas on the opinion that life is God’s gift to man, therefore, life is subject to God’s power”. Active euthanasia is the usurpation of God’s authority; therefore, euthanasia is wrong because it goes against God. Religious and non-religious people alike acknowledge that each individual has a human spirit, the invisible reality that we need meaning in life and a feeling of connectedness. Allowing euthanasia reduces us to animals that abandon their weak, aged and ill so that the healthy are free of the burden of their care. Haven't we evolved further than animals who abandon their weakest? As individuals with a human spirit, we must rise above animal instincts.
Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery sop that leads to involuntary and the killing of people who are thought undesirable. So, many people worry that if euthanasia were to become legal, it would not be long before involuntary euthanasia would start to happen. As it was reported in the BBC news 2002, December that allowing euthanasia will discourage the research for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill. Euthanasia disrespects all human life. It lets us judge whether someone's life is worth saving, or whether we should take the easy, painless option of a quick death. Euthanasia, while more convenient and painless, allows us to dispose of our loved ones instead of fighting for the best treatment and caring for them until their very last breath. This unselfish love is what the elderly and terminally ill deserve from us. Euthanasia sets a precedent of leaving the ill and elderly for dead. Once we determine whether a person's life is worth living, what's to stop us from expanding euthanasia to the disabled, to the deformed, the less-than-perfect children? Let's cultivate a culture of life instead of offering a quick fix for death. Instead of considering death for our loved ones, let's focus on creating cures and giving our love and assistance to the elderly and sick.
Currently in this country, we kill the unborn (abortion), we kill the new born (infanticide) and we kill the aged (euthanasia). Unless we do something drastic to reverse our moral position on the sanctity of life, it will only be a matter of time before we, like Adolf Hitler, kill with impunity all those in between (genocide). It is really no wonder that we have the problem of euthanasia since we have a generation of doctors and moral ethicists weaned on evolution theory. We are just animals, according to that theory. We kill our domesticated pets; we kill our humans; no problem, we are all animals anyway. Animals kill their own, why shouldn't we? But shooting a horse trapped in a burning barn, and injecting a drug into an elderly patient trapped in suffering are not moral equivalents, because man is not an animal.
If we see the statistics of euthanasia even in the US, we can find majority of the states are against it. In the United States, physician-assisted suicide is legal only in Oregon. The Oregon Death With Dignity Act was passed in November 1994 by a margin of 51% to 49%. The states of California, Washington, Michigan and Maine have rejected ballot referenda questions to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court of Alaska in Alaska v. Sampson declared there is no state constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, as did the Florida State Supreme Court in McIver v. Kirscher (
Thus, in my view active euthanasia is morally wrong as every human being has a natural inclination to continue living. And euthanasia does violate to this natural goal of survival. Therefore, active euthanasia goes against my best interests and is also therefore deemed wrong. The right to life is not a right simply to exist. The right to life is a right to life with a minimum quality and value. Death is the opposite of life, but the process of dying is part of life.
Egan, A. &Clarke,(2009,June). Euthanasia – is there a case? Department of General Surgery, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Complex, 2(1).
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