Euthanasia Informational Outlo Essay, Research Paper
Euthanasia Informational Outlook
Before practicing medicine as a profession, doctors must take a Hippocratic Oath in which they are sworn to protect human life. Therefore, any concept which involves assisting a patient to take his own life would, on the surface, appear to be a violation of the sacred medical oath. However, with the ever-increasing numbers of terminally-ill patients, the issues aren’t necessarily as black and white as they once appeared. With the increasing prominence of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, sometimes referred to as Dr. Death, many patients and medical professionals are questioning the implications of physician-assisted suicide, and whether or not such an action constitutes murder.
I. Advanced euthanasia directives including terminal care, value of life and right to die
Euthanasia comprised of the Greek words eu, which means good and thanatos, which means death. There are two basic types of euthanasia — active and passive. Active euthanasia involves inducing a painless death to a patient (per his request) who is suffering from a terminal illness or incurably debilitating condition, with their direct consent. To date, this practice is illegal in the United States, but is recognized by the Netherlands’ government (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1997). Passive euthanasia is the medical practice of not intervening in the natural death process and is performed through the removal of feeding tubes, the cessation of antibiotic medications to fight infection, or the halting of chemotherapy. This is a legally recognized practiced and is widely accepted by the medical establishment. (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1997).
In recent years, the term assisted suicide has become popular or notorious, depending on one’s point of view. This is the process of aiding a person to end his life, and is considered illegal in most states. Although family members often help a terminally-ill person to end his life, many people are enlisting the services of physicians to ensure that the process is a painless one for the patient. In these cases, a physician provides the patient with a lethal dose of medication. Although illegal in most states, in November 1994, Oregon passed an initiative legalizing physician-assisted suicides, a law that is currently being challenged in the courts (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1997).
If a person wishes to retain his right to die, advance directives should be taken before a life-threatening illness commences. These include such legal documents as a living will or a health care proxy which outlines the patient’s medical desires, should he become incapacitated. A power of attorney is also a recommended directive, which appoints a person (usually a family member) to act on the patient’s behalf to ensure his wishes are honored (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1997). This also includes, what is referred to as a do not resuscitate order (DNR) which is a written instruction that no resuscitation attempts should be made during cardiac arrest. This directive can come either from the patient himself or from family members involved in patient care.
II. Medical ethics and the dilemma of euthanasia: Hemlock Society and opposing views
The Hemlock Society is the oldest, nonprofit, right-to-die organization in the United States. It is responsible for educating the populace on euthanasia efforts and is also involved in grass-roots politicking on right-to-die issues. The Hemlock Society was responsible for Oregon’s Measure 16 initiative which permits physicians to assist terminal patients in ending their lives, although remains tied up in the court system.
The Society’s primary responsibility is to educate interested persons and legislators on options concerning death and dying. It provides services which include brochures on patients’ rights, “A Letter to My Physician” sample document which demonstrates how a patient can articulate his life-ending wishes to his physician, information on available community hospice services and living will and power of attorney pamphlets (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1997). With 40 chapters in the U.S., the Hemlock Society is also a member of the World Federation Right to Die Society, which supports similar societies throughout the world with their euthanasia practices.
Of course, there are always repercussions regarding an issue as serious as a person’s right to die. In the case of Dax Cowart, his decision to end his life proved to be premature. When Cowart was critically burned in a propane gas explosion in Texas, he repeatedly begged anyone who would listen to provide him with the means to end his life. For weeks, he languished in critical condition, and within the next year, he was subjected to the painful removal of his right eye, several fingers, and ultimately, his left eye had to be sewn shut (Painton 1990). Unable to endure his agony any longer, Cowart attempted to push himself out his hospital window, but was stopped in time.
In the years since, Dax Cowart has become an investment consultant, graduated from law school and gotten married. Right to life advocates have argued that Cowart’s successful re-entry into society proves that no one should have the right to end his own life. Cowart, however, disagrees. He says, “It doesn’t take a genius to know that when you’re in that amount of pain, you can either bear it or you can’t, and I couldn’t” (Painton 1990). He added somewhat bitterly, ”The physicians say that when a patient is in that much pain, he is not competent to make judgmentsabout himself. It’s the pain talking. And then when narcotics are given to subdue the pain, they say it’s the narcotics talking. It’s a no-win situation” (Painton 1990).
Perhaps the most famous right-to-die case was the one involving Karen Ann Quinlan, who had been in a coma for seven months in 1975, when her parents petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to have her taken off her respirator. The state court agreed, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in what it considered to be a state matter. However, this did not expedite death in the case of Miss Quinlan. She remained alive, at least in the technical sense and continued breathing on her own for nine more years.
III. “Pulling the plug:” should physicians assist in euthanasia — some opposing views
Since assisting his first terminally ill patient to die painlessly in December 1990, Michigan physician Jack Kevorkian has repeated the procedure thirty times. He has been tried in Michigan courts on three separate occasions, and has been acquitted each time. When Kevorkian began his physician-assisted suicide crusade, Michigan had no laws prohibiting such practices. Throughout each of his trials, Kevorkian has steadfastly remained committed to ending patients’ suffering, even if it means defying the law to do so. He has said numerous times, “What this proves is that, while this may be a sin to you, one thing is clear: For any enlightened human being, this can never be a crime” (”Religion; Aided Suicide Historically Opposed by Major Faiths” 1996).
However, not all physicians agree with Dr. Kevorkian. According to general practitioner Dr. Dennis Brown, “We’re here to treat patients, not to do away with them” (”AMA Stands Firm Against Doctor-Assisted Suicide” 1996). Dr. Jo-Ellyn M. Ryall, a psychiatrist from St. Louis, agrees. She says, “There are many, many ways to commit suicide, and you do not need a physician to do this. My patients who talk to me about suicide want help and do not want to be killed. So I recommend that if anyone comes to you, even if they’re terminal and they’re in pain and they’re requesting suicide that you evaluate them for the depression and anxiety that they probably have, and treat those illnesses” (”AMA Stands Firm Against Doctor-Assisted Suicide” 1996).
The religious community has always been against the practice of euthanasia. Near Eastern religions have been vehemently against ending one’s life for any reason for thousands of years. The Catholic religion, as well has been staunchly against euthanasia, citing the writings of St. Augustine: “No one should voluntarily take his own life in order to free himselffrom temporal suffering, since he will fall into eternal sufferings” (”Religion; Aided Suicide Historically Opposed by Major Faiths” 1996). Pope John Paul II has referred to euthanasia as the “culture of death” and described the practice as “a grave violation of the law of God” (”Religion; Aided Suicide Historically Opposed by Major Faiths” 1996).
The Jewish religion also takes the Catholic perspective that human life is sacred, but clearly makes a distinction between “active euthanasia” and prohibiting further medical efforts to keep a patient alive. The Moslem faith is completely against the practice of euthanasia. California cardiologist Dr. Maher Hathout cites the Koran for his right-to-life stance, which reads, “Do not kill yourself or destroy yourself, for verily God has been to you most merciful,” the Koran dictates (4:29). “Take not life which God made sacred, otherwise than in the course of justice (”Religion; Aided Suicide Historically Opposed by Major Faiths” 1996). The Protestant denomination is by far the most liberal of the religious groups, while advocating the desired preservation of human life, “recognize a greater danger of legislating a single moral opinion for all persons, thereby abridging the freedom of individual choice” (”Religion; Aided Suicide Historically Opposed by Major Faiths” 1996).
IV. Euthanasia around the world: “cultures collide”
Religious doctrines aside, an overwhelming number of people throughout the world approve of the practice of euthanasia. According to a 1996 Gallup poll, 75% of Americans believe that a patient has the right to end his own life with medical assistance (”Hemlock Society: General Information” 1996). In The Netherlands, three-quarters of its citizens approve of the practice of euthanasia. In early 1993, the Dutch government adopted Europe’s most liberal euthanasia policy (”Dutch Liberalize Euthanasia Law” 1993). The law provides immunity for physicians who assist in patient-requested suicides. There are over 2,000 Dutch patients who decide to end their lives each year, and the offense still remains punishable by a 12-year prison sentence. The law also maintains that the patient must be in a lucid condition when he makes his position known, but the patient does not necessarily have to be terminally ill.
In Great Britain, the practice of euthanasia has been as hotly debated as it has been in America, especially after two prominent physicians revealed that they assisted over 200 patients to die (Salome 1997). According to general practitioner David Moor, “My conscience is clear, as the majority of the people I help to die are terminally ill. It is simply speeding up the inevitable in a humane way” (Salome 1997). As for Australia, their laws regarding euthanasia resemble those of The Netherlands. Their physician-assisted suicide bill was passed in 1996, and though it has not yet been officially used, as yet to be overridden.
Interestingly, the world’s oldest society, China, is taking a liberal attitude towards euthanasia. In 1996, a group of Chinese doctors implored parliament to allow the very old and terminally ill citizens die (Mure 1996). In the opinion of Professor Wu Zhaoguang, “Doctors are duty-bound to cure patients’ sickness, but they have to alleviate the pain of those patients with incurable diseases” (Mure 1996). In Shanghai’s urban areas, it has been reported that legalizing euthanasia enjoys much popular support, which ranges from 60 to two-thirds percent (Mure 1996). The argument became even more heated in 1995 when a Hunan province resident, Liu Bo, was sentenced to three years in prison for assisting his critically-ill wife to die by serving her tea laced a pesticide. Mr. Liu maintained that he was merely ending the suffering for his spouse of 30 years. Local deputies in Shanghai chartered a motion which states that patients “have the right to live and the right to die” (Mure 1996).
Euthanasia has historically been and shall remain a complex and controversial issue, primarily because there are no right or wrong answers on the subject. However, in a world where there are more and more terminally ill patients, inadequate health care facilities and the exorbitant costs of health care, world governments have been forced to lessen their traditionally hard-nosed stance on the subject. It has become not only an ethical consideration, but a financial one as well. With the proper directives in which a person expresses his wishes, a person should be permitted the final dignity of dying quickly, if his case is a terminal one. However, unless government legislation, with the carefully-outlined restrictions does not take the lead in this matter, the right to die will be remain a right only in principle.
Works Cited :
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