Euthanasia, Choice and Death, Essay Example
Even as euthanasia remains a major controversy, so too is the debate fueled by how it takes various forms. Perhaps the most well-known – and controversial – is voluntary euthanasia, wherein the individual consciously expresses the intent to die. What typically occurs is that the individual, aware of a terminal condition, requests that a lethal injection be administered by a physician to end their life. The voluntary form also occurs in a passive way, as when the patient desires that any life-support means be removed (Tulloch, 2005, p. 34). This goes to equipment as well as to the patient’s unwillingness to be treated with life-sustaining medications.
Involuntary euthanasia is practiced in more than one way as well. In the active form, death occurs through lethal injection or other means going to direct action, and with no reference to the patient’s wishes. The passive involuntary form, as with the voluntary, occurs when life-sustaining means are withheld, and also with no input from the patient (Tulloch, p. 34). Both involuntary processes, it must be understood, are typically done because either guardians of the patient and/or the courts so direct the euthanasia, and because it is determined that the patient has no reasonable expectation of regaining consciousness and recovery.
As may be obvious, all forms of euthanasia are supported by the idea that, at a certain point, quality of life is seen as unacceptable, and because of disease or injury. It is an act based on the premise that certain states of human existence, typically involving sustained and extreme pain, and/or a comatose state, render life not worth living or too unendurable to be continued.
A variety of ethical considerations inevitably come into play regarding the subject. In regard to ethics as justifying voluntary euthanasia, it is often held that the individual’s right to dictate their own destiny is critical. As the individual chooses to die, they are affirming their personal autonomy, which is generally perceived as a fundamental and natural right. This point of view then goes to the more pragmatic matter of ending intense suffering, which renders the euthanasia a choice made reflecting autonomy. The autonomy ethic as well goes to human dignity (Tulloch, p. 35), and the person’s right to determine when their dignity is irreparably lost through the illness. The dignity concept, that is, connects to the individual right to live as they deem acceptable.
Opponents to voluntary euthanasia, however, also turn to ethical arguments. They tend to maintain that the individual so suffering or facing death is incapable of making a rational choice, so it is morally wrong to permit this freedom in such cases. Moreover, there are concerns that any sanctioning of voluntary euthanasia “opens the door” for abuse, and that immoral third parties with power over the individual’s thinking may exert undue influence (Tulloch, p. 35). Then, and going to medical ethics, it is felt that the chance of misdiagnosis, then encouraging the choice to die, must be avoided at all costs.
Beyond these concerns, however, opponents to voluntary euthanasia usually cite the ethical imperative of the sanctity of life (Tulloch, p. 35). It is believed, in plain terms, that no human being, even one undergoing long and extreme suffering, may deliberately end their life because suicide in any form is implacably wrong. Opponents often sympathize with those so suffering, but hold that this view is a moral absolute.
On a personal level, I can easily understand the concerns expressed by opponents to voluntary euthanasia. Human life, in plain terms, is as serious a matter as may be considered, and any such potential to end it must be weighed as carefully as possible. This notwithstanding, however, I can see no imperative, ethical or otherwise, greater than each person’s right to determine their own fate. Autonomy is central to any civilized view of human existence, and must be respected as such. The power over one’s destiny is the most fundamental liberty anyone may know.
This in turn relates to an argument supporting the act, in that no one but the individual may know and feel the circumstances compelling the wish to end life. Not even the closest relations or loved ones can “do the suffering” in extreme cases, or comprehend the imminent finality of terminal illness, as does the patient. It is a widely held principle that individual experience must be regarded as of the greatest importance in all matter of living, as when psychological trauma is known only to the victim and must be overcome. This being the case, I believe it is unjust that any court should deny a person their right to decide when voluntary death is necessary or desirable.
My view, moreover, is also based on the wrong of others attaching moral or faith-based ideas of the value of life to others. It is highly likely that anyone considering euthanasia knows very well the value of life; this, in fact, is what generates the choice because they feel they are denied life in any meaningful way. To hold that it is a universal wrong to choose to end one’s life, however, inherently places an external belief where it is not acceptable. Intentions aside, it is unethical and cruel, and because it ignores everything the individual feels and believes at such times.
I then present a hypothetical case in which a woman of 80 has just been diagnosed with cancer. Mrs. X had been in severe discomfort for some time but had failed to be examined; by the time this took place, it was identified that the cancer had spread to several organs. Given her age, the doctors consider that only the mildest forms of chemotherapy may be safely applied, but that they would then likely be ineffective in stemming the disease.
Mrs. X is then informed that the strong probability is that she may live for several years longer, provided the disease does not accelerate. She is told that the pain she has already experienced will intensify. Medication will help but, as stronger doses are required, she will undergo side effects of nausea and increasing disorientation. In plain terms, Mrs. X is virtually guaranteed only several more years of life at best, and in extreme pain.
In my estimation, this is an ideal case for demonstrating that voluntary euthanasia is both ethical and logically sound. Mrs. X understands that, as the disease progresses, she will be increasingly dependent on others, and family will soon be unable to attend to her needs properly. She considers everything she has been told and has felt herself, and she corroborates the diagnosis with other physicians. Having determined that her life has been full and that the future will, as assessed by all, be painful, and that she will lose all autonomy left to her, she elects voluntary euthanasia. Family members initially object but, as she emphasizes the stark realities of the circumstances, they agree that it is the best course. In short, this is an opportunity to spare the woman years of agony, and there is no more humane consideration than this.
Regarding capital punishment, opponents most frequently cite the inherent danger of any act so irrevocable. In plain terms, once the offender is executed, there is no means of redressing errors in the system that might have gone to a flawed verdict, so ethics are greatly violated. There is no escaping that human justice is imperfect, so no such finality of punishment is ethically warranted. Then, there is the belief that the death penalty does not deter violent crime, as supporters are unable to produce evidence to this effect (Pollock, 2011, p. 332). There is as well the common cry that any such execution is murder, and a violation of human civilization itself.
Conversely, those who support capital punishment argue that, any other deterrence effects aside, the punishment most certainly serves society and justice by ensuring that the offender can commit no further crimes. Then, there is no way of determining the efficacy of the punishment as a deterrent, simply because crimes not committed cannot be tracked. On a more ethical level, supporters also hold that the extreme crimes of murder demand such an extreme response (Pollock, p. 332). Whoever commits the most violent crimes inherently waives their right to continue living.
Consequently, the capital punishment debates is itself marked by extremes, and of thinking based largely on moral issues. Deterrence notwithstanding, it seems there is no meeting ground between those who support it and opposition, even as – ironically – the value of human life fuels both sides. For the opposition, human life may never be taken deliberately as a punitive measure, and because it inherently violates the ethics of the society, while supporters maintain that, again, the nature of capital crimes is such that the offender’s life has no value, and is as well a danger to the society.
To begin with, I believe that it is irrational to hold that capital punishment does not, at least to some degree, deter murder and the most violent crimes. Offenders move through society as do other people, and are subject to its influences and their own understanding of how the society functions. This being the case, the death penalty is not likely to deter the criminal acting in a moment of rage. However, any such crime as planned is likely to be reconsidered when the would-be offender is aware that capture and conviction will result in death. Many such offenders act through reason and planning, or some level of reason, and the innate desire to protect the self would then weaken any ambition to kill.
Then, and on ethical terms, I do not agree that all human life is sacred, and because some human beings act in ways so deviant, they remove themselves from the population as a whole. The murderer, for instance, who commits multiple and horrific crimes may have no claim on the sanctity of life because their own actions utterly refute the concept itself. I believe this argument is perhaps more valid than any deterrence stance, and because it goes to an actual responsibility of the society to differentiate in such cases.
Lastly, the feeling that the punishment denies the offender the ability to strike again is by no means minimal. The media has reported on violent murders as committed by individuals who had been incarcerated and who, through legal processes, obtained their freedom again. Such criminals are not likely concerned with the repercussions of their acts, as they continue to harm others following initial captures and imprisonments. This notwithstanding, however, logic demands that society recognize one reality; a violent killer is a violent killer, and capital punishment ensures that this most severe of threats is ended.
Ultimately, I support capital punishment, but I do so under specific conditions. As noted, the justice system is imperfect. Consequently, every possible legal recourse must be employed to determine guilt before the sentence may be carried out. As there is no greater of more final punishment society may administer, it is then all the more essential that the law observe the utmost in safeguards and trial processes. This then enhances the society’s ethical right to inflict the punishment because question of guilt is virtually eliminated.
Regarding grounds for capital punishment, I believe that murder is not the sole reason an offender should be executed. All such statutes must be carefully designed, but there are horrific crimes “as bad as” murder. Some offenders rape and torture their victims, just as others engage in crimes which so grossly reflect cruelty, as when parents beat infants in ways resulting in their deaths, the death penalty is mandated. It is agreeable to believe that all human beings are capable of being redeemed. Human history, unfortunately, reveals too many instances where savage offenders commit crimes so consistently, redemption is irrelevant, and because the offenses are so extreme. Put another way, and for lack of a better word, humanity sometimes produces “monsters,” and it is necessary to end their lives to serve justice.
Finally, the above goes to my support for capital punishment as very much based on a belief or thinking. Science has revealed a great deal never before known, in regard to how brain imbalances and biological factors go to violent criminality. This must be pursued, of course, because there may well be violent criminals unable to deter their own behaviors. At the same time, however, I strongly feel that basic qualities of good and evil exist, and that there are individuals who, and by virtue of their innate characters alone, experience satisfaction in inflicting unspeakable pain on others, or in “merely” robbing others of their lives.
Pollock, J. (2011). Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Tulloch, G. (2005). Euthanasia, Choice and Death. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.
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