ELS 151 : Essay No.2

Task number 2 : Euthanasia is a very contentious issue. Do you think doctors should be permitted to assist a person to die when they are going to die soon anyway, when they are in great pain or have little quality of life? In your answer, you should refer to research or commentary on the issue.

The essay discusses the legitimacy of Euthanasia. It is no doubt that euthanasia is a highly controversial issue whether it is classified as murder or the respect for human rights. Euthanasia is defined as "the practice of ending a life so as to release an individual from an incurable disease or intolerable suffering, also called "mercy killing""(Microsoft Encarta, 2000.). This definition is explained in detail in subsequent paragraphs. In this essay, the author's point of view that euthanasia should be permitted under certain conditions is introduced and explained with arguments related to the legitimacy of euthanasia as a way of reducing suffering. Initially, the more detailed definition of euthanasia is introduced, then the brief history of euthanasia and the current lawful situations in some countries are described. Lastly, the conditions under which euthanasia should be permitted and the possible consequences and problems due to the legalization of euthanasia are focused on and discussed.

"Death with dignity" is a word used to describe the way of dying with a respectful treatment - i.e. not as "a living thing" but as "a human being". According to this definition, death with dignity is not a matter which ought to be discussed its legitimacy but is a sort of things which ought to be aimed at achieving. (www.euthanasia.com) On the other hand, the reason why euthanasia has been debated on its legitimacy over years is due to its intentionality which is primarily aimed at releasing patients from a great deal of pain. In defining euthanasia, it can be segmented into five groups in terms of their characteristics. Firstly, it can be classified into two according to doctors' actions - i.e. active (killing) and passive (allowing to die) euthanasia. The former has been severly criticized whether it is justified or not, whereas the latter (not to intend to cure) has been widely accepted in many societies. The objection to this general social perception was carried out by J. Rachels in 1975. (Rachels, J. 1975. Active and Passive Euthanasia.) Euthanasia is also divided into three parts depending upon the process of decision-making. -i.e. voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is allowed its execution by the will of patients themselves. If patients themselves are incapable to make such decisions (e.g. new born infants), non-voluntary action might be taken. Involuntary euthanasia is considered to be most controversial due to the fact that its execution is conducted without or sometimes against patients' intentions in spite of patients' capability of decision-making. (Heibonsha Encyclopedia, 2000)

In history, typically in ancient Greece and Rome, it was permissible in some situations to help others die. (Beauchamp, D. 1995. Glory of Ancient Civilization.) As the rise of organized religion, euthanasia became morally and ethically abhorrent. Almost every religion condemns euthanasia in any form as well as suicide. (Sullivan K.J. 1992. Religion and Death.) Organizations supporting voluntary euthanasia were established in Britain in 1935 and in the U.S. in 1938. Today, with the development of medical and surgical technologies, euthanasia is becoming more controversial compared to previous time. Netherlands has one of the most liberal euthanasia policies of all industrialized nations. In Australia in 1996, the Northern Territory passed pioneering legislation that permitted medically assisted suicide, however it was repealed in 1997, due to a condemnation by Church and political leaders. In most countries nowadays, positive euthanasia is an illegal act. However in Oregon, the U.S., positive euthanasia was firstly legalized after long debate and several court cases in 1995. But the federal government's prosecution for this regional legalization is still being conducted. ( www.newsweek.com )

As mentioned earlier, euthanasia under certain conditions must be permitted. Focusing on active and passive euthanasia, passive euthanasia is thought to be generally acceptable if a patient is met the following conditions. Firstly, a patient must be incurable with contemporary medical and surgical technologies and his/her death is imminent. Secondly, patient's agony is intolerant. Thirdly, the action must be taken aiming at reducing patient's pain. Fourthly, a patient must indicate his/her intention if capable. Then the action must be conducted and executed by a doctor. Lastly, the method is morally appropriate. However, active euthanasia should not be abused or implemented except for one case - brain death. Technical development in medicine has lead to prolong one's lives and consequently created "vegetable patients" and "brain death". Brain death occurs when the higher centers of the brain cease to function and no electrical activity is registered in the brain. (www.britannica.com ) In this case, death as a consequence of turning off a patient's life support system is widely accepted as the inevitable outcome. In such cases, even if a patient's intention is not clearly indicated by him/herself, it may be possible to be agreed to turn off patient's life support system by patient's family or relatives. The reason why euthanasia should be approved when brain death is that brain death is nowadays widely accepted as human's death. In addition to this, certain life support systems are so expensive that the financial implications ought to be considered. Brain death patients could often save other crucially injured or sick patients' lives in providing their still vital organs. Some opponents of euthanasia warn that the increasing success that doctors have had in transplanting human organs might lead to abuse of the practice of euthanasia. Proper legal safeguards are certainly needed in this area.

Consequently, the legitimacy of euthanasia is a highly debatable issue. However, with both religious and moral implications, making conclusion is clearly in great difficulties. The division between euthanasia, suicide and murder is sometimes quite proximate each other. Both doctors and patients must have certain awareness about euthanasia in order to overcome the difficulties in deciding when to die.

Beauchamp, D. 1995. Glory of Ancient Civilization. New York. McGraw-Hill Companies.
Sullivan K.J. 1992. Religion and Death. Boston. New Age Publications.
Rachels, J. 1975. Active and Passive Euthanasia. Los Angeles. University of California Publications.
Web sites:
Heibonsha Encyclopedia. 2000.
Microsoft Encarta. 2000.