Euthanasia - Described and Debated

by Tamara Dyck

The practice of ending a life to provide an easy or painless death is called euthanasia. This is a much-debated topic. It is a custom which makes a mockery of mercy and is only a radical solution to a problem which can be dealt with.

There are two basic kinds of euthanasia: active and passive. In order for it to be called active euthanasia, someone must take deliberate action to cause a death. When someone doesn't do anything to prevent death, it is called passive. Another form is called voluntary, in which a person requests death.

Supporters of euthanasia try to make it sound like a civilized and humane practice. They use words and phrases like death with dignity, compassion, therapeutically terminating the pain, mercy, and relief for the suffering.

The use of the word compassion is ironic. It means to "suffer along with." If one was to suffer with someone they would be there to listen, support, and just try to understand how the person was feeling. It is not compassionate to just eliminate the problem without trying to deal with it.

When talking about this issue people can be very vague in what they say. Things are also said which are totally against the actions that a person performs. For example, a Dutch physician who was studying euthanasia made this statement:
[N]o physician, in my opinion, performs euthanasia with the sole intent to kill his patient. His intention can always be described as trying to relieve the suffering of his or her patient. That, by the way, is exactly what infuriates Dutch physicians when they are treated as criminals or murderers after having performed euthanasia (Dr. J.J.M. Van Delden). (Eckstein, 1)
As you can see, doctors compensate for their actions by reasoning that they did not kill or murder their patient. All they did was relieve a person's pain. They tell themselves that they acted as a deliverer in order to make someone happy. A quote, in relation to this amending states:
. . . the chief female nurse, when asked whether she considered the Russians and Poles to have been murdered, answered, "Murder? How do you want me to understand murder? They died from injections." But pressed further whether in her opinion that was murder, she answered, "Yes" (Jay Lifton).' (Eckstein, 1)
In truth, "'Euthanasia is not progress. It turns doctors from healers into killers. It encourages the elderly to believe that they are obstacles, not human beings. It is the path to barbarism, and we must fight it every step of the way (Steve Forbes).' (Ertelt, 1)"

It is never right for anyone to inflict death on another person. Section 14 of the criminal code states:
No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given. (Eckstein, 2)

Pain is the most common complaint of terminally ill patients. Instead of taking the easy way out through euthanasia, the pain should be treated as well as possible. Palliative care is a good alternative because it "seeks to optimize the quality of life of the patients' remaining time" (Cundiff, 6-7).

While the pain should be treated (for example, with painkillers), the person should not be forced to live through methods like life-support, resuscitation, force feeding, and surgical treatments. These techniques don't cure anything- they only extend distress.

There are many arguments against the legalization of euthanasia. The first has to do with the elimination of the old, weak, and disabled. People who are "not useful" could be exterminated simply for that reason. Extending from this, beneficiaries might request death for the sick because of questionable reasons. Someone might only be thinking of their own gain, knowing that they are mentioned in a will.

There is a major conflict between euthanasia and many religious and ethical beliefs and opinions. Many believe that "only God can give life and only God should take it away" (Cundiff, 64). There is also the question to consider of the fallibility of physicians. Many lives could be ended too hastily as a result of incorrect prognosis or diagnosis.

The question also arises of whether or not euthanasia should be legal. There are arguments for and against it, but what kind of action would be favorable? If one were to take a close look at it, one would realize what hopelessness would be caused by the legalization of "mercy killing." Condemned killers could have more rights in regard to life protection than the average citizen. Vulnerable people "could be coerced, pressured, and exploited into what amounts to capital punishment for the 'crime' of being old, sick disabled, or dependent" ("Euthanasia: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions", 6).

In regard to the legalization of euthanasia, "the government [does] not have the right to [allow] one group of people . . . to kill another group of people" ("Euthanasia: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions", 2). The government also does not intend to make anyone suffer. Laws are in place to protect from and prevent abuse. One needs to realize this and think of it as a good thing. The allowance of euthanasia would open up doors of undesirable practices.

Euthanasia could easily become a way to minimize health care costs. In the United States many people do not have medical insurance. For this reason they do not receive pain control and other conveniences. What is also making this situation worse is that physicians are being offered cash bonuses if they fail to provide care for their patients. Doctors could face financial risks for actually doing their jobs.

In most cases, people who request assisted suicide or euthanasia are actually crying for help. If suicide is prevented and assistance is offered, in the next five years less than four per cent of the people will go on to kill themselves. Over the subsequent 35 years, less than 11 per cent will commit suicide.

Depression is a significant cause of euthanasia. "In one study, of the 24 per cent of terminally ill patients who desired death, all had clinical depression" ("Key Points For Debating Assisting Suicide", 1). This is a devastating statistic. Depression is treatable. Many people who have been killed could have been spared simply be receiving some kind of therapy for this illness.

Medical care is something that must be provided. We cannot walk out on people who are suffering. Steve Forbes, Republican presidential candidate, said:

There's no question that we must do everything we can to improve medical care for those who are terminally ill and those who are in excruciating pain. But we must not give up on people who are suffering, and we must not let them give up on themselves. We have the science and the technology to help people relieve pain. The question is: Do we have the love and compassion to stand by people who feel that they're all alone? (Ertelt, 1)

The problems (pain, etc.) which cause a desire for euthanasia can be dealt with. This should be the solution rather than ending a life. The mockery evident in "mercy killing" is an irony that many people continue to put up with. This issue should be seriously addressed and action should be taken against it. We need to let our leaders know how we feel so that this killing can stop.

You can find more essays by Tamara on her homepage.