The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Although the right of life, liberty, and property are guaranteed, the right to die is not. Due to the absence of this right, the debate on whether assisted suicide and euthanasia should be legal has been carried out for decades. The Constitution guarantees us a generous amount of inalienable rights.
These rights include freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. With an abundance of personal freedoms and rights, should those in suffering be allowed to prematurely put their physical and mental torment to an end? Throughout this essay, I will define the concepts of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, provide background information, observations, opposing arguments, and offer my opinion on the subject.
There are varying definitions of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Due to the multiplicity of definitions offered for the two concepts of euthanasia and assisted suicide, many arguments over the legality and moral soundness of both are presented. Despite the similarity between the two concepts, there is one useful distinction between the both of them. Euthanasia allows a physician to end a patient’s life in a painless manner, if granted permission by the patient and their family. In this case, the sole responsibility is put on the physician to bring the patient’s life to an end. Euthanasia is also broken down into two classifications.
There is voluntary versus involuntary and passive versus active. Voluntary euthanasia is conducted with consent from the patient but involuntary euthanasia is conducted with the consent of someone else, such as a close family member, because the patient is unable to make the decision. Passive euthanasia is the withholding of life-sustaining treatments in order to speed up the suicidal process. Active euthanasia is the use of lethal substances to end a patient’s life. The practice of active euthanasia is more controversial and brings about arguments of moral, religious, and ethical soundness. Assisted suicide only allows the physician to assist the patient in suicide if it is requested. The patient is most likely supplied with lethal substances which can be self administered. Although there is a distinction between them, they are most commonly argued for or against together.
The concepts of euthanasia and assisted suicide have been argued and debated since the 1800s. The “right to die” movement began to advocate for people’s right to euthanasia and assisted suicide. In 1938, the Euthanasia Society of America was founded in New York. The society lobbied for the acceptance of assisted suicide. In 1975, the ESA changed their name to the Society for the Right to Die. The following year, they had two major successes. The Natural Death Act was made law in California and the New Jersey Supreme Court reached a decision in their first ever “right to die” case. In 1980, The World Federation of Right to Die Societies was created to bring together all “organizations working to secure or protect the rights of individuals to self-determination at the end of their lives.” Other organizations have also formed such as the AAHS, Americans Against Human Suffering, to advocate for the same causes.
Many sound and logical arguments are made for both sides of the issue. Different arguments are based on practical views, human rights, philosophy, and privacy. In the following section, I will identify many of the arguments made that both oppose and support the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and provide brief reasonings and explanations. I will first analyse the pro argument and follow with the anti argument. Pro and anti-euthanasia beliefs are mainly based around the uncertain answer of one question… Do humans have the right to die?
Pro-euthanasia advocates believe that humans have the right to die. Humans should be allowed to make the choice of how and when they die, these things should all be a matter of personal choice. The right to die comes along with the right to life. Throughout life, we are able to make an overwhelming amount of choices for ourselves; we can decide if we want to attend college, we can choose who we want to marry, and we decide what kinds of food we put into our bodies. Along with these other choices, humans should have choices when it comes to the ends of their lives, especially if no harm is being caused to anyone else. Many pro-euthanasia advocates take on an empathetic viewpoint and believe terminally ill patients need to be shown more mercy.
If someone has become victim to a terminal illness, they should have a choice about what happens to them. No one should be forced to live against their own will. When someone is suffering from intolerable and chronic pain, it is inhumane to deny them the choice of life or death. The inevitability of the matter is also brought into consideration. Euthanasia and suicides occur at alarming rates in the United States. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death; every year around 44,965 Americans die by suicide. If someone has made the decision to put their suffering to an end they will find a way to do it, by any means. If euthanasia and suicides are going to occur anyways, it is preferred that they are regulated. If people are allowed to make these decisions for themselves it would also have a freeing effect on scarce health resources.
Anti-euthanasia advocates believe the value and sanctity of life is being undermined. The practices of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide taint society’s respect for life. It also devalues the lives of the sick and disabled compared to others. Terminally ill and disabled people are now seen as less valuable as others. Many fear that voluntary euthanasia is the beginning of a slippery slope, which will lead to the act of involuntary euthanasia and the killing of ill patients who are considered valueless without consent. The belief that euthanasia would not be necessary if proper palliative care was being given is common. Palliative care is the specialized medical care for people with serious and life-threatening illnesses.
The practice of euthanasia also contradicts a physician’s role as a healer and caretaker, who should be dedicated to saving lives instead of ending them. The search for cures and new healing treatments for terminally ill patients will be discouraged. The practice of euthanasia directly goes against the Hippocratic Oath, which states that the aim of medicine is to heal and not to kill. The Hippocratic Oath is an oath which is historically taken by physicians and it requires physicians to uphold specific ethical standards. Physicians are given too much power and play the role of God, which is wrong when it comes to religious arguments. God has given us free will to do with our lives whatever we choose, but it is wrong for us to commit suicide. The actions of euthanasia and assisted suicide deny God and his right to choose the lengths of our lives and the way we die. Non-religious people believe that suffering has value and offers us opportunities to grow. Lastly, it is assumed that an overwhelming pressure will be put on terminally ill people to end their lives. They will begin to view themselves as burdens and look to these methods as a solution.
I do not agree with the practices of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. We are granted one life and we should treasure our blessings, whether they are successes or sufferings. God has a plan for everyone and to interfere with his plans for our lives is a great sin. My religion is the grounding of my moral compass. I hold strong to my faith and beliefs and cannot agree with something that strongly contradicts them.
Many cases of assisted suicides and euthanasia have been reported in the recent years and have gained spotlight. In 2014, Britney Maynard, a California resident with stage four brain cancer moved to Oregon to exercise her right to assisted suicide. She was given lethal substances and chose to end her suffering at the age of 29, although she was urged by many to reconsider.
The legal standing of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the United States still varies from state to state. As of March 2018, euthanasia and assisted suicide is now legal in the following states: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, District of Columbia, and California. In the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, and District of Columbia the right to assisted suicide is mandated by state law. In the states of Montana and California the right is mandated by court ruling. The methods by which people are approved for assisted suicide and euthanasia vary from state to state. For example, in District of Columbia, in order for a patient to receive a lethal substance, they must make two verbal requests to a physician, which are separated by fifteen days. The patient must also submit a written request 48 hours before their second verbal request, which is signed and dated. Although the practices of assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in these few states, the debate over whether they should remain legal has not come to a halt.
In the state of California, the legal standing of physician-assisted suicide has gone through an irregular trial process. In May 2018, Daniel Ottolia, California’s Riverside Superior Court Judge, reversed the 2016 state law that allowed physicians to prescribe lethal substances to terminally ill patients. He views the law as unconstitutional because it was was passed by Legislature during a special session which was convened by Governor Jerry Brown for the purpose of addressing health care-related issues. On May 24, Judge Ottolia issued his judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and ended physician-assisted suicide in the state of California and a motion to vacate the judgment was rejected. In June 2018, the judgement which ended physician-assisted suicide was stayed in appeals court, which made it legal again in the state of California, which will remain pending until further litigation.
It is recommended that more efforts should be put towards understanding in people’s beliefs about death and developing programs to accommodate these differences. It also recommended that there be an improvement in care for terminally ill patients who are approaching death; the deficiencies of care for the dying need to be eliminated.
Although death is inevitable for all humans, it comes sooner to some. Scientific and medical advances have welcomed in new methods of ending suffering and pain felt by those with life-threatening illnesses. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are two methods at the center of historical arguments and questions. Should people be allowed to put an end to their pain and suffering along with the help of physicians? There are many answers to this question, coming from practical, religious, and historical viewpoints. There are logical arguments made for both sides of the argument which makes it all the more difficult for a conclusion to be reached on the issue.
The improvement of care for those near death will lessen the demand for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, which will require changes in policies and actions. People need to be able to trust they will be treated well as they die. As humans, we all face death, is it our right to decide when we want to die? As Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, believes “ Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” Perhaps it is time for us to change way we view death, in hopes of having a better understanding and acceptance of it.
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