Facts and Ethics Behind Euthanasia


Euthanasia is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as 

"the action of killing an individual for reasons considered to be

merciful" (469). Here, killing is described as the physical action 

where one individual actively kills another. Euthanasia is tolerated 

in the medical field under certain circumstances when a patient is 

suffering profoundly and death is inevitable. The word "euthanasia" 

comes from the Greek eu, "good", and thanatos, "death," literally, 

"good death"; however, the word "euthanasia" is much more difficult to 

define. Each person may define euthanasia differently. Who is to 

decide whether a death is good or not? Is any form of death good? All 

of these questions can be answered differently by each person. It is 

generally taken today to mean that act which a health care 

professional carries out to help his/her patient achieve a good death.

 Suicide, self-deliverance, auto-euthanasia, aid-in-dying, 

assisted suicide -- call it what you like -- can be justified by the

average supporter of the so-called "right to die movement" for the 

following reasons: The first reason is that an advanced terminal 

illness is causing unbearable suffering to the individual. This 

suffering is the most common reason to seek an early end. Second, a 

grave physical handicap exists that is so restricting that the 

individual cannot, even after due care, counseling, and re-training, 

tolerate such a limited existence. This handicap is a fairly rare 

reason for suicide; most impaired people cope remarkably well with 

their affliction, but there are some who would, at a certain point, 

rather die. We say that there is a second form of suicide; justifiable 

suicide, that is a rational and planned self-deliverance from a 

painful and hopeless disease which will shortly end in death. I do not 

think the word "suicide" sits well in this context but we are stuck 

with it. Suicide is the taking of one's own life. Why does the term 

euthanasia even exist? Is euthanasia not suicide? A differentiation 

must be made between the two. Suicide is condoned by society as being 

unacceptable but euthanasia is viewed as moral and acceptable in most 

instances. The term "self-deliverance" is difficult to understand 

because the news media is in love with the words "doctor-assisted 

suicide". This is because the news media is dissecting the notion of 

whether or not doctors, who are supposed to preserve life, should 

partake in euthanasia. The media is failing to look at the actual 

issue of euthanasia, but instead, they are looking at the decision of

whether or not doctors should assist in euthanasia. Also, we have to 

face the fact that the law calls all forms of self-destruction 


 There are ethical guidelines for euthanasia. If the following 

guidelines are met, then euthanasia is considered acceptable. The

person must be a mature adult. This is essential. The exact age will 

depend on the individual but the person should not be a minor who 

would come under quite different laws. Secondly, the person must have 

clearly made a considered decision. An individual has the ability now 

to indicate this with a living will (which applies only to 

disconnection of life supports) and can also, in today's more open and 

tolerant society, freely discuss the option of euthanasia with 

health-care professionals, family, lawyers, etc. The euthanasia must 

not be carried out at the first knowledge of a life-threatening 

illness, and reasonable medical help must have been sought to cure or 

at least slow down the terminal disease. I do not believe in giving up 

life the minute a person is informed that he or she has a terminal 

illness. Life is precious, you only live once, and it is worth a 

fight. It is when the fight is clearly hopeless and the agony, 

physical and mental, is unbearable that a final exit is an option. The 

treating physician must have been informed, asked to be involved, and 

his or her response been taken into account. The physician's response 

will vary depending on the circumstances, of course, but they should 

advise their patients that a rational suicide is not a crime. It is

best to inform the doctor and hear his or her response. For example, 

the patient might be mistaken. Perhaps the diagnosis has been misheard 

or misunderstood. Patients raising this subject were met with a 

discreet silence or meaningless remarks in the past but in today's 

more accepting climate most physicians will discuss potential end of 

life actions. The person must have a Will disposing of his or her 

worldly effects and money. 

 This shows evidence of a tidy mind, an orderly life, and 

forethought, all things which are important to an acceptance of 

rational suicide. The person must have made plans to die that do not 

involve others in criminal liability or leave them with guilty 

feelings. Assistance in suicide is a crime in most places, although 

the laws are gradually changing, and very few cases ever come before

the courts. The only well-known instance of a lawsuit concerning this 

is the doctor-assisted suicide of Dr. Kevorkian. The person must leave 

a note saying exactly why he or she is taking their life. This 

statement in writing removes the chance of misunderstandings or blame. 

It also demonstrates that the departing person is taking full 

responsibility for the action. These are all guidelines for allowing a 

euthanasia to take place. By this, I mean the doctor is involved in 

the patient's decision and actively performs the euthanasia. I believe 

that passive euthanasia would show a lack of interest on the doctor's 

part. Simply allowing a patient to die does not require a doctor's 


 Passive euthanasia should not even exist. Euthanasia is 

defined as "the action of killing..." James Rachels states in his 

"Active and Passive Euthanasia" that "The important difference between 

active and passive euthanasia is that in passive euthanasia, the

doctor does not do anything to bring about the patient's death. The 

doctor does nothing and the patient dies of whatever ills already 

afflict him. In active euthanasia, however, the doctor does something 

to bring about the patient's death: he [actively] kills him" (1024). 

Is allowing a patient to die considered to be an action? Rachels 

states "...the process of being allowed to die can be relatively slow 

and painful, whereas being given a lethal injection is relatively 

quick and painless" (1020). Disconnecting respiratory devices is not 

an acceptable method of euthanasia. It causes the patient to starve 

for oxygen and gasp for it, but when he/she cannot breathe, the body 

is starved of oxygen and suffocates. This is not merciful by any 

means. Rachels also states, "One reason why so many people think that 

there is an important moral difference between active and passive

euthanasia is that they think killing someone is morally worse than 

letting someone die" (1022). The idea that a patient utilizes a

medical device and has grown dependent on it for life is a grim one 

indeed; however, relieving a patient who relies on this machine for 

his/her life by simply cutting it off is not acceptable. Leon Kass 

states in his "Why Doctor's Must Not Kill," "Ceasing medical 

intervention, allowing nature to take its course, differs 

fundamentally from mercy killing. For one thing, death does not 

necessarily follow the discontinuance of treatment" (1034). This 

states my point exactly. Euthanasia is the physical action of putting 

someone to a painless death who is suffering tremendously. The passive 

nature of allowing someone to die is not euthanasia. This is not an 

physical action taken by a doctor to ease a patient's suffering and 


 The doctor should decide whether the ailment is curable and if 

it is not, he/she should decide whether the patient will live

productively for months or even years to come. If the ailment is not 

immediately fatal, will it cause pain and suffering for the rest of 

the patient's life? How old is the patient? Will he/she live much 

longer anyway? All these factors should come into play when deciding 

whether a patient should be euthanized; however, the doctor's answers 

to these questions may differ from those of the patient and his/her 

family. It is up to the patient's doctor to decide whether the 

patient's ailment is indeed curable. The patient should be presented 

with the facts. The doctor should tell the patient exactly how it is 

and not project the false hope that the patient may recover. With this 

information, the patient can make an informed decision and feel that 

it is the best one. Sidney Hook states in his "In Defense of Voluntary 

Euthanasia" that "Each one should be permitted to make his own choice-

especially when no one else is harmed by it. The responsibility for 

the decision, whether deemed wise or foolish, must be with the 

chooser" (1028). This is evidenced quite simply by the mere fact that 

everyone has civil rights and liberties. No one can decide who should 

die and who should not. Everyone is in complete control of his/her own 

life and; therefore, should be free to decide.

 Having considered the arguments in favor of auto-euthanasia, 

the person should also contemplate the arguments against it. First,

should the person go into a hospice program instead and receive not 

only first-class pain management but comfort care and personal 

attention? Put simply, hospices make the best of a bad job, and they 

do so with great skill and love. The right-to-die movement supports 

their work, but not everyone wants a lingering death, not everyone 

wants that form of care. Today many terminally ill people take the 

marvelous benefits of home hospice programs and still accelerate the 

end when suffering becomes too much. A few hospice leaders claim that 

their care is so perfect that there is absolutely no need for anyone 

to consider euthanasia. While I have no wish to criticize them, they 

are wrong to claim perfection. Most, but not all, terminal pain can 

today be controlled with the sophisticated use of drugs, but the

point these leaders miss is that personal quality of one's live is 

foremost to some people. If one's body has been so destroyed by 

disease that it is not worth living, that is an intensely individual 

decision which should not be swayed. In some cases of the final days 

in hospice care, when the pain is very serious, the patient is drugged 

into unconsciousness. If that way is acceptable to the patient, then 

so be it, but some people do not wish their final hours to be in that 

fashion. There should be no conflict between hospice and euthanasia, 

both are valid options in a caring society. Both are appropriate to 

different people with differing values. 

 The other consideration is related to religion: does suffering 

glorify a person? Is suffering, as related to Jesus Christ's suffering

on the cross, a part of the preparation for meeting God? Are you 

merely a steward of your life, which is a gift from God, which only He 

may take away. If your answers to these questions is yes, then you 

should not be involved in any form of euthanasia. Remember that there 

are millions of atheists, as well as people of differing religions, 

and they all have rights, too. Many Christians who believe in 

euthanasia justify it by reasoning that the God whom they worship is 

loving and tolerant, and would not wish to see them in agony. They do 

not see their God as being so vengeful as refusing them the Kingdom of 

Heaven if they accelerated the end of their life to avoid prolonged, 

unbearable suffering. A doctor should not be allowed to "play God" and 

decide who should live and who should die. In fact, even the patient 

should not be allowed to, but it is the patient's life and he/she has 

to live it. So, it is only logical to allow the patient, and no one 

else, to decide.

 Another consideration must be that, by ending one's life 

before its natural end, is one is depriving oneself of a valuable 

period of good life? Is that last period of love and companionship 

with family and friends worth hanging on for? Even the most determined 

supporters of euthanasia hang on until the last minute; sometimes too 

long, and lose control. They, too, gather with their families and 

friends to say goodbyes. There are important reunions and often 

farewell parties. Euthanasia supporters enjoy life and love living, 

and their respect for the sanctity of life is as strong as anybody's. 

Yet they are willing, if their dying is distressing to them, to give 

up a few weeks or a few days at the very end and leave under their own 

control. Ultimately, the decision lies with the beholder. It is the

right of a person to make his/her own choice, with some limitations. 

It is the doctor's responsibility to provide the patient with an 

accurate prognosis so that the patient may make an educated decision.


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