Euthanasia is the termination of an extremely ill person’s life in order to relieve them from the suffering the illness is causing. Euthanasia is usually only conducted on a person with an incurable condition, however there are other instances when euthanasia can be carried out. In many countries, such as the UK, it is illegal to assist anyone in killing themselves. Should a terminally ill patient in a great deal of pain and discomfort be allowed to terminate their life, if that is what the patient desires? And who has the right to deny a patient who is in complete suffering a less painful ending to their lives? These questions cause a huge amount of controversy, and have been strongly debated. Those in favour of euthanasia argue that it should be up to the patient, whereas those against argue that euthanasia could be misused, leading to very disturbing situations.
A strong ethical argument against the use of euthanasia is that it could soon become a slippery slope, with the legalisation of involuntary euthanasia following it. Lord Walton, the chairman of a House of Lords committee on medical ethics looking into euthanasia spoke on the subject: “We concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused.” Since involuntary euthanasia is indistinct from murder it would be impossible to regulate, causing the danger of murderers not being brought to justice, due to their crimes being passed off as involuntary euthanasia. There is also concern that doctors could end up killing very sick patients without asking for their permission, and in the worst case scenario, begin to kill off patients to free up beds in hospitals, or to save money. These situations show how dangerous it could be to let the legalisation of euthanasia lead into the legalisation of involuntary euthanasia.
On the other side of the debate, there is a strong argument that people should have the right to terminate their lives, whenever, and however they may wish. Many supporters of voluntary euthanasia believe that everyone has the right to control their body and life, and should be free to decide at what time, and in which manner they will die. The idea behind this is that unnecessary restraints on human rights should be avoided. It was said in an article in the Independent newspaper in March 2002, that; “In cases where there are no dependants who might exert pressure one way or the other, the right of the individual to choose should be paramount. So long as the patient is lucid, and his or her intent is clear beyond doubt, there need be no further questions.” Since the right to life gives a person the right to not be killed if they do not want to, proponents of euthanasia argue that respect for this right will prevent euthanasia being misused, as killing a patient without their permission would violate their human rights. It can also be argued that because death is a private matter, if there is no harm to any other people, there is no right to deny someone‘s wish to die. Supporters of this believe that if euthanasia promotes the best interests of all the parties concerned, and no human rights are violated, then it is morally acceptable for voluntary euthanasia to take place.
Another argument against euthanasia, this time a practical one, is that euthanasia is not needed when proper palliative care is available. Terminally ill patients are given drugs and other types of support to help relieve the physical pain and mental effects of being terminally ill. If this palliative care is competent then it may be able to relieve the patient of a lot of pain and discomfort, and will give the patient a better quality of life. It has been stated by the World Health Organisation that “palliative care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process; it neither hastens nor postpones death; it provides relief from pain and suffering; it integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of the patient.” Not all of the trauma experienced by a patient is physical however, and drugs alone cannot relieve the emotional pain felt by someone counting the days until their death, although the emotional support that can be provided from palliative care can go a long way to make the last part of a terminally ill patients life less emotionally stressful. Effective palliative care will give the patient and their loved ones chances to spend quality time together, and will allow the patient to live the remaining part of their lives with as much of the distress and pain felt by a terminally ill patient removed as possible. Some argue, however, that along with the introduction of euthanasia, there could be a reduction in the availability of palliative care, as euthanasia is more cost effective than prolonging the life of dying patients. This could possibly reduce the availability of care for terminally ill patients who do not wish to be euthanised. Sometimes, however, palliative care is not enough for some patients who’s lives are just too unbareable, so could the termination of their lives be the best option?
Some supporters of the legalisation of euthanasia have put forward another point, they argue that if we can place aside the notion that death can in no way be something positive, we are able to consider that it can in certain cases be a better option than keeping a patient that is in terrible pain and discomfort alive. If death is not always seen to be the worst outcome, then many of the objections to euthanasia no longer exist, since many of the arguments rely on the notion that death cannot be a good outcome. People generally avoid death because they enjoy and value being alive, but in the case of a terminally ill patient, they may be in a lot of discomfort and pain, and are unable to enjoy their life. This may cause the patient to devalue their life, and the patient may decide that they do not wish to endure their suffering any longer. There is also the fact that although the patient themselves may wish to be euthanised, it may have a very detrimental effect on the family of the patient. Those in favour of this argument believe that since the death of a patient in that situation could be a better option to keeping them alive; the patient’s wish should be respected.
It is clear that there are strong arguments from both sides, and the debate as to whether voluntary euthanasia should be allowed still continues. I personally believe that if a terminally ill patient’s life holds nothing but suffering, then it should be an acceptable option to help them die as long as the patient requests it, and sufficient permission is given. I also, however, agree with many arguments against euthanasia, such as the danger of it becoming a slippery slope. I believe that voluntary euthanasia could be used as a cover up for more criminal acts, such as murder. I do however think that the idea that the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia could also lead to the legalisation of involuntary euthanasia is extremely unlikely, as I feel that the great majority of people would be strongly opposed to allowing this. Due to the fact that I agree with many of the points from either side of the debate, I find I am unable to fully agree with either of the sides, however, although I am leaning slightly towards the idea that euthanasia should be legalised in certain circumstances.