Can medicine be used for “killing” people rather than “helping” them? People believe that asking such question is like slamming the door on what medicine exists for which is saving people’s lives, healing their pains and curing them. When patients’ conditions classify as incurable sicknesses, many physicians start to offer euthanasia as the last solution to end their suffering, and, in many cases, as a response to the patients’ requests. This issue, which has become a controversial issue worldwide, has many different aspects to discuss, starting from its history, going through different peoples’ views and ending with today’s arguments that need to be discussed.
Euthanasia and Its Classifications
Euthanasia, which Greeks called the "good death", refers to the act of ending someone's life who suffers from an incurable illness and chronic pain or even depression. The purpose of this act is to relieve patients’ pains and put them in peace, and that is why it is known as mercy killing also (Alters, 2005). People may mix up between "assisted suicide" and "mercy killing" while they are actually different.
Assisted suicide refers to voluntary euthanasia, when patients by their desire ask physicians for euthanasia. However, mercy killing is non-voluntary euthanasia; that is when someone else, probably a doctor or care-providers including the family, decides to end the patient's life because the patient can't decide due to his/her condition (e.g. in a coma) (Owen, 2008). There is another type of euthanasia that’s known as involuntary euthanasia. It is defined as killing a patient who is able to choose whether to live or not, without asking him/her to choose (Owen, 2008). This type has been considered as an intentional crime that should be punishable by law.
The History of Euthanasia
The issue of euthanasia had many interesting facts through history. It actually started in ancient Greece and Rome in the 5th century B.C. by using poisons to relieve sick people from their pains. Then, it continued to be practiced throughout middle ages, but Jews, Christians and Muslims were against this because they believed it is God choice; that is God created people and ending their lives should be done by God’s will only. Since the 17th century, there have been many changes in the laws of legalized euthanasia in many countries, such as America (ProCon, 2010).
Recently, assisted suicide has become legal in most European countries such as, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. However, in the UK, euthanasia is still illegal, even though there have been arguments and demands about legalizing it there. In Switzerland, physicians' participation is prohibited; nevertheless, euthanasia was legalized (Owen, 2008). In relation to this, Oregon, a state in America, legalized euthanasia in 1994, but the implementation didn’t start until 1997. In the same year in Australia, the law changed to be illegal, although it was allowed in 1995, especially in the Northern Territory (Keown, 2004).
Once people hear the word euthanasia they start connecting it to medical reasons; however, in fact, there are several reasons why people choose to end their lives. Some people feel they are a “heavy load” on their families or friends, some people are depressed, and others find their life worthless (Alters, 2005). Elderlies, for example, become dependent on their sons, and therefore, believe that ending their lives is better than putting their kids under the pressure of having extra duties. Another example would be those people who feel they are nothing in this world, and that they have no purpose to live. Thus, they believe that their death won’t make any difference for others. This is, of course, besides the suffering of terminal illness, which put the patients under depression and leads them to make hasty decisions.
The Majorities' Views
Surprisingly, many people in different societies where euthanasia is prohibited are in favor of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. A recent survey in the UK showed that more than 50 percent in each age group agree with changing the law (Owen, 2008). Similarly, in Western Australia, people are strongly supporting the legalization of voluntary euthanasia for those who are in a chronic pain (ntnews, 2010).
On the other hand, there are people, indeed, who are against the law. A good example to mention is the story of David Williams, 51 years old, who went through a painful experience and fought against cancer but still thinks choosing to die is not a good choice because these thoughts of wishing to die are temporary. Moreover, when Williams’ wife died of liver cancer, he felt so grateful that he didn’t end his life and left his 3 children orphaned. “I am more than grateful that I am here for the children now.” Williams said (Hinsliff, 2006). The different opinions among people raise many questions, and one important question to ask is whether such decisions should be made by individuals or not.
Patient Autonomy: Do Patients Really Choose Euthanasia Autonomously?
Most people who seek euthanasia argue that this is an autonomous decision, while actually it is not. This is because they get affected by the pressure of other people around them, like their family or friends as well as doctors sometimes (Brown, 2012). Whenever their family or their friends express their opinions or arguments about euthanasia, patients start to think of themselves in relation to others’ views. They hear stories about others and then, start to shape their decisions depending on what they heard, so it is not a decision they have taken independently anymore. This leads us to ask another question: Is this the kind of choice that should be done independently?
Many human beings believe this decision is fraught with dangers, and it has wrong ideas about human dignity and humanity, so that it is no longer an autonomous choice to make (Paterson, 2008). In other words, those people who don’t think it is an autonomous choice believe that human dignity doesn’t mean to die in peace, but it means to value the life without putting an expiry date to our souls. Furthermore, those who are suffering and want to end their lives don’t make sensible choices since they are under depression and pain (Brown, 2012). Could it be more sensible if an expert or a doctor made this choice? To think about such question, it’s probably better to be aware of doctors’ views.
Some doctors refuse to stand by permitting assisted suicide as they believe their role is to treat and heal sick people as much as they can without hurting them. “As physicians, we took an oath to strive, to the best of our abilities, to help patients and to make every reasonable effort to do no harm. Physician-assisted suicide is incompatible with that goal, and is the means to an end that we have no right to employ”, said Brian Cunningham, a Bennington Vermont physician (Cunningham, 2011). His argument shows clearly that he is strongly against physician-assisted suicide because of the oath they took of saving people’s lives. Therefore, ending someone's life is no longer physicians’ job and they have no right to do that. Besides, doctors believe that patients who demand assisted suicide are going to change their decisions at the end (Hinsliff, 2006). This is because patients go through temporal self-conflict and depression which can be treated by physiological therapies. An election that has been done in the UK shows that approximately 66% of doctors are against legalizing assisted suicide (Mirror, 2009).
On the other hand, there are physicians who stand for permitting assisted suicide. A new study says that “one in three doctors” is in favor of assisted suicide (Devlin, 2009). In the UAE, the Dubai Health Authority has received requests from doctors asking to permit euthanasia on clinical death conditions, but all requests were strongly refused because it is against the Medical Liability Act in the UAE, and of course, above all other reasons, it is contrary to the Islamic law (Ashour, 2011).
A Famous Doctor in this Field
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an American doctor, is one of the most famous doctors who practiced assisted suicide on more than hundred patients, from 1990. In 1998, he was found guilty and charged with second degree murder, so that he was imprisoned till 2007 (60 Minutes, 2011). He believed that assisted suicide is a good choice to make to end the miserable lives patients live. Furthermore, Dr. Jack saw this as a personal liberty. “The patient's autonomy always, always should be respected, even if it is absolutely contrary - the decision is contrary to best medical advice and what the physician wants.” Kevorkian said (Jack Kevorkian Quotes, n.d.).
Even though cultures and beliefs differ across the world, there are still things that people share as all of us are under the name of “human beings”. Therefore, people should consider others’ reasons and think deeply before making any decision that is connected to life. This issue of euthanasia isn’t only about one man, one nation or one country. It is a global issue that should be dealt with at this global level, not less than that. This sensitive issue has to be clarified from any confusion might occur so people can decide and make right choices in their lives. After all, there is a reason we are here, living these years, these moments, and so we have to learn how to appreciate that.
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