Euthanasia: the Right to Choose Death

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May 26, 2009 02:35 euthanasia
I saw that the key to my further life was in my own hands.
I now knew that when we chose to go we can go at any time,
nonviolently, calmly and tranquilly, dying with dignity.

-Helen Nearing《Loving and Leaving the Good Life》

Euthanasia is a really controversial issue that some people condemn while others embrace. Because this topic concerns about not only the individual right, but also the morality, the law, and even the family and society, people have debated on it for a long time but cannot have a conclusion.
The origin of euthanasia is a Greek term, ευθανασία, which means “good death”. Therefore, what euthanasia resorts to is the dignity of death. People can die nonviolently, calmly and tranquilly. Just as Hugo Tristram Engelhardt says in the Foundations of Bioethics: ” Death requires choices. The good death, as the good life, requires forethought and planning, it is unlikely to happen by chance. ” Although the purpose of principle of beneficence, one of the six medical ethics, is to prevent significant disease, to decrease pain and to postpone death, doctors also have to notice another principle which claims that the autonomy of patients should be respected as well. Postponing death may equal prolonging sufferings. Being near death could be meaningless struggle. If the end of life is death, why not bravely choose to go and have it in our own hands?
The classification of euthanasia is quite complex and make this issue more debatable. First, euthanasia may be conducted with consent or without consent and that distinguishes between voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. However, the involuntary euthanasia is not very suitable because the patients do not have the ability to make decisions. Instead, the families or the doctors may choose the death for them. But this kind of decisions which are not from the patients’ own will sometimes could be murder or even genocide. Therefore, the better way is to have advance directives, living wills, or durable power of attorney. That means the patients can make decisions before they fall into a coma or being unconscious. Besides, the most important thing is that they cannot regret. Many people who have opposite views on this issue usually ask: “What if those patients regret when the lethal drug start inject into them? Is it a murder? Who is to blame?” However, one cannot predict others’ thought. Therefore, the proponents of euthanasia have to make it clear that before signing those papers of consent, the patients must be conscious, decide by themselves, think carefully and cannot change their mind. If they regret, they have to shoulder the responsibilities for themselves.
Some people consider euthanasia to be morally unacceptable because life is sacred and people can never end it by themselves. However, everybody should have the rights to choose death. Choice is a fundamental principle for liberal democracies and others have to respect for it. Besides, to the dying patients, euthanasia is one way to keep the dignity of their death. When people are aging, they gradually disable to do something, such as going to the toilet or eating. House for the Aged in Canada even has a machine to help the old, fat people who cannot have a bath by themselves to take a shower. The rest of their lives become highly embarrassed and lose the dignity. They may be naked in front of others, or they cannot hold their spoons to eat because their hands tremble out of control. Although people cannot be the master of their own fate, they can adjust their attitude to it. Euthanasia can be the maintenance of lives’ dignity.
The quality of life is another reason to support euthanasia. In addition to the above-mentioned descriptions, the patients also have to endure the pain and suffering during a disease. People who are opposed to euthanasia often ask for the definitions of “suffering” and “relief”. They argue that the patients should not think that their life become daily struggle with pain and hopelessness. Instead, they have to bear the sufferings and consider that their lives still worth striving. However, the pain a person feels during a disease can be incomprehensible to another one who has not gone through it. Therefore, others cannot make the decisions for the patients and cannot insist that the patients should struggle for living.
Speaking of the suffering, there are not only the physical but also the emotional pain. The antagonists often accuse that the legalization of euthanasia will force the dying patients to die because they cannot accept that they impose suffering on their family and society. So they will choose death although they do not want to. However, the worries of the patients won’t disappear even if the euthanasia is illegal. Once they are sick, they would worry about whether they become the burdens placed upon others. This kind of emotional pain is also difficult for patients to overcome.
Moreover, the antagonists of euthanasia usually made an impassioned speech to encourage the dying patients to live. They claim that suffering is not a bad thing, and those pains are just like testaments to enrich their life experience rather than strike them down. What if they overcome the illness one day miraculously? Therefore, they regard euthanasia as a chance to eschew their responsibilities of life. However, it is totally contrary to the proponents’ views. As I mentioned before, others can never know what kind of torments the patients suffer. The antagonists say easily while the patients bear bitterly. Besides, miracle would not happen to everyone. People cannot spend whole life expecting it. According to the statement of Martin Heidegger, life is being towards death. So when people know that there is no way out, why not bravely choose death? Euthanasia is not a passive attitude towards life but shows human’s precious courage to face death.
In the financial aspect, the legalization of euthanasia will reduce the burdens for both the patients’ families and the medical system. Because of taking care of the patients with long-term disease, countless families have spent a lot of time and paid most of their fortune. The medical system also has to provide a good quantity of resources. Besides, in many countries there is a shortage of hospital space and the energy of doctors. If euthanasia can be conducted, the resources could be used for people whose lives could be saved instead of those who are not given hope to recover. Saving economic costs and human resources is really an advantage; however, it is not the motivation for the proponents to support euthanasia but the following result. We are not going to force the patients to death.
In the religious aspect, God grants people life. Life is a precious gift and people cannot end it by themselves. Moreover, people should cherish and appreciate that. But when lives become not complete but full of suffering and pain, and people who endure that are just like the breathing corpses, they may start to hate living because the rest of their lives are not meaningful, significant, and colorful anymore. However, this reaction does go against the original intention of life. As a result, choosing death does not mean the depreciation of life but respect and gratitude.
The antagonists of euthanasia often make the usual “slippery slope” argument that the right to die is just the first step toward an eventual policy. They are worried about the risk of abuse. Who should be given the right to determine their dying? What if the signatures of those patients can be forged? How can we know that the patients make the decisions by themselves? They also like to ask whether the euthanasia can be spread out the whole world. In order to avoid the situation that everyone can choose death and euthanasia becomes another type of suicide as the antagonists accuse, the laws should make it clear that only under what conditions euthanasia can be conducted. The practice must be carefully limited: It will be available but only for those who request it and are dying away. For example, the Oregon law defines terminal disease as that which will produce death within six months. That is to say, the suffering is extreme and cannot be palliated despite the best efforts. Besides, in response to those fears, I take a bill in the Assembly, AB 654, for example. In this bill, it is written clearly that only after ascertaining the competence of the patient and two doctors to attest to the condition of the patent and the fact that the patent is acting voluntarily, they conduct the euthanasia.