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Euthanasia-The human interruption of nature's course (research paper)

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Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide can be considered one of the most prevalent problems when dealing with the ethics of patient treatment. Should people have the right to end their own lives when prolonging it will only cause them more pain? Should families who love someone so much, (that they don't want to lose them), cause them more pain by keeping them alive? What makes that more ethically correct than letting them die? The more we look into these issues the more we see how contradictory people are when it comes to making these decisions. I would like to show the issues in a more detailed manner. I will give some background on Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), present the reasoning in support of euthanasia with Terri Schiavo’s case as an example, and explain briefly my standpoint on the subjects.
If a person has become extremely ill and doesn't want to continue suffering, should he/she be forced to stay alive? Whose life is it anyway? Is it the family's life or the persons? In a situation like the one above, there are two options, Euthanasia or PAS. By lethal injection, or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment, we can end the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition. Most families believe that they should be given the right to decide if they want to let their loved ones go, but in most cases it's not the family's choice. The decision to live or die usually rests with the individual, unless he/she is too ill to make a reasonable decision.
In a case like this, only immediate family members, such as spouses or the parents are given the right to choose to end their loved one's life of pain and suffering due to a terminal illness or incurable condition. Usually, the only time the parents are really given the choice is when their loved one isn't married. Although it's a decision that no one ever wants to make for a loved one, it's a decision that has to be made in certain circumstances where there are huge medical expenses, pain and suffering, and no chance of recovering. According to Timothy Quill, “In considering such profound decisions, the central issue is not what family members would want for themselves or what they want for their incapacitated loved one, but rather what the patient would want for himself or herself”(Quill 3).
For instance, in the Terri Schiavo case the patient became extremely ill over the past fifteen years after going into cardiac arrest followed by a persistent vegetative state (a coma) due to an eating disorder that she had (Jost 1). The patient, Terri Schiavo, was a person who was unable to make the decision to end her life. It was then up to her husband, Michael Schiavo, who according to the Florida state law was made her legal guardian. This law designated the spouse as the decision maker above any other family members when a patient became irreversibly incapacitated and had not designated a health care proxy (Quill 2). Before Terri went into a vegetative state and wasn't terminally ill, she had told her husband that she did not want to suffer or have any pain and that if she did then she would want to die (2).
In this case, Mrs. Schiavo had been experiencing pain and suffering for the past fifteen years, so Mr. Schiavo decided to move on and made the extraordinarily hard decision to end his wife's life (2). After the decision was made, the feeding tube was removed from Terri's body and she was left to die. Terri's parents then went against Mr. Schiavo's decision and insisted that the feeding tube be put back in, but by this time it was unfortunately too late (Quill 3). Mrs. Schiavo's parents were terribly upset by the news and were obviously not ready to lose their daughter Terri. Terri Schiavo was just too ill and wouldn't even been able to make it at this point, with the tube in or out (3). Just think, if euthanasia or assisted suicide wasn't legal Terri would probably still be here suffering until her death while her family watched and also had to find a way to financially pay for such extraordinary medical bills.
The issue of Euthanasia is having a tremendous impact on medicine in the United States today. It was only in the nineteenth century that the word came to be used in the sense of speeding up the process of dying and the destruction of so-called useless lives. Today it is defined as the deliberate ending of a suffering person's life from an incurable disease. A distinction is made between positive and negative euthanasia. Positive euthanasia is the deliberate ending of life; an action taken to cause death in a person. Negative euthanasia is defined as the withholding of life preserving procedures and treatments that would prolong the life of someone who is incurably and terminally ill and couldn't survive without them. The word euthanasia becomes a respectable part of our vocabulary in a subtle way, via the phrase 'death with dignity'.
An assistant professor at the Harvard University Medical School department of ambulatory care and prevention, Susan Block, thinks that interest in assisted suicide will draw back as painkilling care and effective pain management become more widely available (“Caring for the Dying” 3). As said by Susan Block, “As we do better at providing patients with a tolerable death, there will be less fear about what death is - and more confidence that doctors are going to do the right thing by patients, and that in turn, will reduce interest in assisted suicide. There will always be some level of interest in assisted suicide, mainly reasoning of wanting to keep control and avoid dependency” (quoted in “Caring for the Dying” 4).
The United States Supreme Court upheld laws forbidding Physician Assisted Suicide in 1997 but left the door open for states, such as Oregon, to pass legislation permitting the practice (Fraser 2). Nora Miller observed, “In 1997, the people of Oregon voted 60% to 40% to defeat a referendum seeking to repeal the law. After two court challenges failed, the law went into effect in late 1997 and remains in effect to this day“(Miller 1). As said in Medical Society Journal, “Between 1998 and 2004, Oregon physicians wrote 326 prescriptions for drugs to be used in assisted suicide, and 208 people ended their lives taking the drugs” (Okie 2). Recent studies based on interviews with terminally ill patients shown new reasons why patients seek physician assisted suicide. Authors in “Practical Issues in Physician-Assisted Suicide” observed that, “8.5% of 200 terminally ill patients with cancer expressed a pervasive desire to die that was associated with depression, pain, and poor social support. In another study, 27% terminally ill patients with cancer had thought seriously about physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, but only 1.9% had discussed these options with their physicians”(“Practical Issues” 2). There are many reasons which cause terminally ill patients to request the assisted-suicide, many of them are psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, grief, and sleep problems, as well as physical symptoms, like depression, problems in personal relationships, or spiritual issues, which may also contribute to a patients desire to hasten death (“Euthanasia Cases” 4).
People have many different reasons for wanting to end their life by committing suicide. They have been diagnosed with a degenerative, progressive illness like Huntington's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, Alzheimer's etc. (“Euthanasia Cases” 3).They fear a gradual loss of the quality of life in the future as the disease or disorder progresses. They have lost their independence and must be cared for continually. Some feel that this causes an unacceptable loss of personal dignity. Some people who decide that they wish to commit suicide are unable to accomplish the act. They need assistance from their physician. Physician assisted suicide helps them die under conditions and at the time that they wish. PAS is currently legal, under severe restrictions, only in the State of Oregon and in the Netherlands (McCarthy 1). In other jurisdictions, they are forced to continue living against their wish, until their body eventually collapses, or until a family member or friend commits a criminal act by helping them commit suicide.
The problem with euthanasia lies in defining the conditions under which it would be carried out. Cases where depression or painful, though not terminal, disease are involved should not have the option of euthanasia. These people can recover from their illnesses and go on to lead very fulfilling lives. Clear cut cases would be those in which the patient has terminal illness that causes them incredible pain as they get closer to death. Euthanasia would end the needless suffering and quicken the already inevitable death. There are also the cases involving people in a vegetative state. Sometimes their bodies can not function on their own and live with the help of intravenous nourishment. Other times they need countless machines to regulate their breathing as well as their heart. In all of these cases the individual has lost the brain capacity to be conscious and to think. Without our thoughts we would not truly be alive. People in this condition can only cause pain to their loved ones. There is no legitimate reason not to end their lives when their quality of life has already deteriorated to almost nothing.
Everyone has a different view on the acceptability of euthanasia. What might seem legitimate to one person may be outrageous to another. Ethics play a big part in this controversy and along with it, morals. Because everyone has different ethics and morals, it would be impossible to make a set up of universal rules for the practice of euthanasia that would make everyone happy. The only way to please everyone is to leave the rules in the hands of the individual or if they are physically unable to make the decision in hands of their family People should have the right to live and the right to choose how they will die, if indeed they are terminally ill or unable to function in life. If a person wants to end a suffering, they should have that choice. After all, they are the ones who would be ultimately affected by euthanasia. There is a quote by Derek Humphry: "A caring society...offers euthanasia to a hopelessly sick person as an act of love" (Humphry 1). I am for euthanasia and I believe that it is an alternative to living a life in suffering and pain. I feel that it is completely moral and that people should have the right to control their own lives. If euthanasia is legalized then patients could die painlessly, in the presence of family and other loved ones. I think that euthanasia is a way of having "death with dignity."
In conclusion, I believe that euthanasia should be legalized. This practice releases the patient's pain, and also along with the family member's burden. Although the patients seem to have the right to end their own lives, I highly suggest that thinking should be thoroughly done before making any type of this kind of decision. In the future, I hope that advancing technology will bring an end to all suffering of this kind.


Works Cited

Drickamer, Margaret A. Lee, Melinda A. “Practical Issues in Physician-Assisted Suicide.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 126.2 (1997):146-151. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Mount Vernon, WA. 20 November 2006 .

Fraser, Sharon I. Walters, James W. “ Death- whose decision? Euthanasia and the terminally ill.” Journal of Medicine Ethics. 26.2 ( 2000): 121-. Multiple Databases. ProQuest. Mount Vernon, WA. 20 November 2006. .

Humphry, Derek. “PERSPECTIVES ON ASSISTED SUICIDE.”Los Angeles Times. (1996):9. Newspaper. ProQuest. Mount Vernon, WA. 26 November 2006. .

Jost, Kenneth. "Right to Die." CQ Researcher 15.18 (2005): 421-444. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Mt. Vernon, WA. 17 November 2006 .

McCarthy, Michael. “Oregon’s Euthanasia Law.” The Lancet.344.8935 (1994): 1493. Research Library. EBSCO. Mount Vernon, WA. 19 November 2006. .

Miller, Nora. “Death with dignity or criminal act?” International Society for General Semantics. 63.1 (2006): 106-. Multiple Databases. ProQuest. Mount Vernon, WA. 19 November 2006 .

Okie, Susan. “Physician-Assisted Suicide-Oregon and Beyond.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 352.16 (2005): 1627-. Multiple Databases. ProQuest. Mount Vernon, WA. 21 November 2006 .

Quill, Timothy E. “Terri Schiavo- A Tragedy Compounded.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 352. 16 (2005): 1630-. Multiple Databases. ProQuest. Mount Vernon, WA. 15 November 2006 .

Roscoe, Lori R. Malphurs, Julie E. Dragovic, L.K. Cohen, Donna. “A comparison of characteristics of Kevorkian euthanasia cases and physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.” The Genotrics. 41.4 (2001): 439-. ProQuest. Multiple Databases. Mount Vernon, WA. 20 November 2006.

Worsnop, Richard L. "Caring for the Dying." CQ Researcher 7.33 (1997): 769-792. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Mount Vernon, WA, 18 November 2006 .

Wornsnop, Richard L. “Assisted Suicide Controversy.” CQ Researcher 5.17 (1995): 393-416. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Mount Vernon, WA. 16 November 2006

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