Morality of Euthanasia


"The third night that I roomed with Jack in our tiny double room, in 
the solid-tumor ward of the cancer clinic of the National Institute of 
Health in Maryland, a terrible thought occurred to me. Jack had a 
melanoma in his belly, a malignant solid tumor that the doctors 
guessed was the size of a softball. The doctors planned to remove the 
tumor, but they knew Jack would soon die. The cancer had now spread 
out of control. Jack, about 28, was in constant pain, and his doctor 
had prescribed an intravenous shot, a pain killer, and this would 
control the pain for perhaps two hours or a bit more. Then he would 
begin to moan, or whimper, very low, as though he didn't want to wake 
me. Then he would begin to howl, like a dog. When this happened, he 
would ring for a nurse, and ask for the pain-killer. The third night 
of his routine, a terrible thought occurred to me. 'If Jack were a 
dog, I thought, what would be done to him?' The answer was obvious: 
the pound, and the chloroform. No human being with a spark of pity 
could let a living thing suffer so, to no good end." (James Rachel's 
The Morality of Euthanasia) 
 The experience of Stewart Alsop, a respected journalist, who 
died in 1975 of a rare form of cancer gave an example on the morality 
of euthanasia. Before he died, he wrote movingly of his experiences 
with another terminal patient. Although he had not thought much about 
euthanasia before, he came to approve of it after sharing a room with 
Jack. While growing up, each of us learns a large number of rules of 
conduct. Which rules we learn will depend on the kind of society we 
live in and the parents and the friends we have. We may learn to be 
honest, to be loyal, and to work hard. Sometimes we learn a rule 
without understanding its point. In most cases this may work out, for 
the rule may be designed to cover ordinary circumstances, but when 
faced with unusual situations, we may be in trouble. This situation 
is the same with moral rules. Without understanding the rules, we may 
come to think of it as a mark of virtue that we will not consider 
making exceptions to. We need a way of understanding the morality 
against killing. The point is not to preserve every living thing 
possible, but to protect the interests of individuals to have the 
right of choice to die.

 People who oppose euthanasia have argued constantly doctors 
have often been known to miscalculate or to make mistakes. Death is 
final and irreversible; in some cases doctors have wrongly made 
diagnostic errors during a check-up. Patients being told they have 
cancer or AIDS, by their doctors' mistake, have killed themselves to 
avoid the pain. Gay-Williams, The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia, stated:
"Contemporary medicine has high standards of excellence and a proven 
record of accomplishment, but it does not possess perfect and 
complete knowledge. A mistaken diagnosis is possible. We may believe 
that we are dying of a disease when, as a matter of fact, we may not 
be. . . ." (419) 
Williams explains that patients who have been told by their doctors 
they have cancer never actually had it. But there have been so few 
cases reported that these remarks are often considered to be 
speculations. The individual should have been able to continue living 
until he felt the need to be confined to a bed. I cannot disagree 
with the fact that doctors do make mistakes, but they are more correct 
than they are wrong. Let's say that the patient chooses not to die 
but instead takes the medicines his doctor has prescribed for him. In 
doing so the patient is choosing for himself. He's making his own 
decisions; he could see other doctors to see if his illness had not 
been mistakenly presented. Is it not for the individual to decide 
whether she or he wants to live or die? John Stuart Mill, On 
Liberty, expresses his view on individual rights: 
"In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of 
right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the 
individual is sovereign." (629) 
Those opposing euthanasia have also argued that practicing euthanasia 
prevents the development of new cures and rules out unpracticed 
methods in saving a life. Gay-Williams says: 
"Also, there is always the possibility that an experimental procedure 
or a hitherto untried technique will pull us through. We should at 
least keep this option open, but euthanasia closes it off." "They 
might decide that the patient would simply be 'better off dead' and 
take the steps necessary to make that come about. This attitude would 
then carry over to their dealings with patients less seriously ill. 
The result would be an overall decline in quality of medical care." 
Euthanasia does not have to prevent medical researchers from inventing 
new cures or trying new methods in saving a life. Having new cures 
that are successful will reduce the number of patients wanting to die. 
 Recent news says medical researchers have now reported on new methods 
of treating and curing cancer patients. News such as this would let 
those who think they "are better off dead" have confidence and hope 
for a life to live. 

 The common argument in support of euthanasia is one that is 
called "The argument of mercy." Patients sometimes suffer pain that 
can hardly be comprehended by those who have not experienced it. The 
suffering would be so terrible that people wouldn't want to read or 
think about; and recoil in horror from its description. The argument 
for mercy simply states: Euthanasia is morally justified because it 
ends suffering. Terminally ill patients are people who will never 
attain a personal existence, never experience life as a net value, 
and/or never achieve a minimal level of independence. The moral issue 
regarding euthanasia is not affected by whether more could have been 
done for a patient; but whether euthanasia is allowable if it is the 
only alternative to torment. Euthanasia does not refer to Nazi-like 
elimination of the sick, old, or unproductive; traditionally 
euthanasia means the search for a good death, an easier death for one 
who is dying, a death released in some measure from intractable 
suffering. If a person prefers and even begs for death as an 
alternative to linger on in torment, only to die, then surely it is 
not immoral to help this person die sooner. John M. Freeman, "To 
Treat or Not to Treat," expresses the dilemma as follows: 
"If we elect not to listen to a person's wish on dying, what becomes 
of him? Is he to be fed and watered while the physician waits for him 
to develop Mennonites? Is he to be sedated and fed inadequately so 
that he dies slowly of starvation without making too much noise?" 

 "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is one of 
the oldest and most common moral proverbs, which applies to everyone 
alike. When people try to decide whether certain actions are morally 
correct, they must ask whether they would be willing for everyone to 
follow that rule, in similar circumstances. The application of this 
to the question of euthanasia is fairly obvious. Each of us is going 
to die someday, although people don't know how or when, and we will 
probably have little choice in the matter. But suppose you were given 
two choices: to die quietly and painlessly or hope to live and 
suffer? A chance to survive a disease so painful that you could only 
moan for those few days before death; with family members standing 
helplessly by. What would your ideal choice be? I know I would 
choose the quick and painless death. Why is euthanasia considered 
morally wrong by some people? The principle of self-determination 
promotes the ideas of self-governance, freedom of choice, and personal 
responsibility for individual decisions and behaviors. John Stuart 
Mill, On Liberty, says: 
"But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of 
the public with purely personal conduct is that, when it does 
interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly and in the wrong 
place.." (635) 

Self determination protects privacy and the rights of a person to 
determine his or her own life or property without specifying what 
choice or action should be embraced. 

 What if Jack were your brother, your husband, or your son; 
would you let him suffer or die painlessly? The doctors planed to 
remove the tumor, but they knew eventually "nature will take its 
course." Society does not have the right to tell an individual how to 
control his own life. If an individual chooses to die, then by all 
mean he has that right; the right is paramount. Euthanasia is morally 
correct, although this method of relieving pain has been the topic of 
great moral debates. May we be vested in the wisdom, patience, and 
courage to perceive the limitations of our particular moral visions 
and derived norm. Robert Louis Stevenson, Crabbed Age and Youth, says 
"Old and young, we are all on our last cruise."


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