The question of life has been very intriguing over time and across space; more specifically the question of when life begins and when life should end. With regard to when life should end, a lot of ethical nuances are faced- euthanasia in perspective. The word ‘euthanasia’ comes from the Greek words eu and thanatos which respectively means ‘good’ and ‘death’ thus ‘good death’ (Seamus and Shean 8). By extension, the term is also used interchangeably with ‘easy death’ and ‘mercy killing’ among others. The questions which should linger everybody’s minds should revolve around the true meaning of life and definition of the very moment it ends or rather should end. In addition, who should determine this particular moment when life begins and by what standards? Is euthanasia right or wrong? Above all, should it be legalized? If ‘yes’ why and if ‘no’ why? That is why Seamus and Shean (11) refer to it as a simple thing yet very complicated.
This paper explores the two divides of the subject on what arguments do the proponents and opponents of the exercise put forward and what is their basis. In essence, this write up tries to look at these arguments in a more critical sense and an informed conclusion is arrived at.
According to Jennifer, Martha and Carolyn Roberts (1), euthanasia is either active or passive; active and passive in the sense that the magnitude of the actions deems them so. The latter involves indirect participation of the person administering care, for instance, of a sick person, through among other things, stopping food supply (2). On the other hand, active euthanasia is either voluntary, involuntary or non-voluntary in which the patient requests for it, the patient has not requested for it but is suffering too much (mercy killing) or the patient is not in a position to give consent about what they want. This kind of distinction is important since it shall give insights on what conditions should lead to ‘justified’ euthanasia. This is well seen in Contemporary Moral Problems in which White, James E. (11) distinguishes between causing a person’s death and letting a person die. He also talks of the ‘duty to die’.
The big question is whether the act(s) discussed above should be legalized or allowed by law. The question of legalization or criminalization of euthanasia needs a multi-disciplinary approach that is combining perspectives in, for instance, Law, Theology and Philosophy (Otlowski, Margaret 187). Due to the sensitivity of the issue, a compromise between the perspectives of all disciplines, or at least the major ones, has to be arrived at. In practical terms, due to diverse philosophical, medical, theological and moral dispositions, unanimity may not be possible. But one thing is clear; that ‘modernity’ is a chief determinant of any position on euthanasia.
The basic argument in support of euthanasia, especially the active voluntary euthanasia is that every person has the right to choose what they feel is best for them. According to Otlowski, Margaret (188), once a patient requests a doctor to perform euthanasia on them, then such doctor(s) should not be afraid of the exercise as it is not criminal- in this case. The author argues that the law is discriminatory as long as it does not allow the principle of self-determination to hold for patients who are terminally ill. On the other hand the opponents of the claim assert that there can never be a genuine system of verification on whether a patient truly asked for it. Further, terminally ill patients may lack ‘sobriety of mind’ to know what befits them. Therefore in this case, a doctor may, in law, perform euthanasia.
Does an individual have a right to commit suicide? This question can lead us to an answer to yet another question on whether a patient is justified to request ‘to be killed’. Proponents argue that persons who assist others end their lives should not be considered to have assisted in suicide because in Otlowski Margaret’s view, since the Common Law gives individuals some constrained liberty (not right) to end their lives, then such persons should be free to seek related assistance if they are not able. In another perspective, euthanasia should not be outlawed because different human rights stipulations propose peoples right to fair treatment and non-subjection to degrading conditions (terminal illnesses). In addition, a perspective transcending human rights (in the realm of legal rights) provides for peoples’ right to die. Consequently, States should have a duty to enforce this right. All persons should have a dignified death. Some people have argued that legal permissibility is preceded by moral uprightness and since some people consider euthanasia to be morally right, then it should be legally allowed. This argument is similar with the abortion argument; that since abortions are already happening, they should be institutionalized for safety purposes. In retrospect, euthanasia is no different.
The case against the legalization of euthanasia has various reasoning directions. Opponents of euthanasia such as Sullivan and Kelly mainly use the doctrinal approach in which it is put that despite the circumstances, euthanasia is bad. This collection of reasoning includes, among others, the fact the human life is sacrosanct and human suffering adds value to life. The collectivity of reasoning based on pragmatism against legalization of euthanasia include the wedge argument, its effects on the society, uncertainty of a patient’s consent, the nuances involved in choosing the right criterion, a negligible need for euthanasia, that efforts on medical research are paralyzed and so on. In demystifying the above reasons, Otlowski Margaret has outlined some good insights (212-246).
The doctrinal thinking purports that human life is intrinsically valuable in which nobody gives this value. It is inherent in each person and nobody, including that sick person, has the discretion to take it away or influence such activity leading to its end. Regarding illness, persons should do their best to prolong others’ life. The Ten Commandments expressly prohibits intentional killing.
In a more pragmatic perspective, legalization of euthanasia would lead to more social problems on life if it has not emanated from another life-ending exercise. In other words, countries which have legalized euthanasia had earlier legalized abortion thereby leading to more aged people who are economically handicapped and the need to reduce them. Such legal inclusion would further lead to rampant killings without genuine basis. This is popularly known as the wedge principle. It further stipulates that the pro-euthanasia side always has a hidden agenda beyond the face value. In moral grounds, there is no difference between any kind of euthanasia including that which the proponents push for legal entrenchment that is active voluntary euthansia. Legalization of euthanasia would lead to more killings which are not accounted for since it is not always easy to verify whether indeed the disease was incurable and that money to clear medical bills could not be afforded. The opponents of legal euthanasia purport that there is always possibility of error in diagnosis which would lead to assertion that a disease would be incurable. Even if the diagnosis was correct, cure is always possible since in history, people claimed to be ever-ill have healed. Terminal illnesses are not the leading killer in the world and should not be included in the Law of the country. Instead, governments should spend much effort in trying to curb killer diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis and AIDS. If euthanasia were to be legalized, there shall exist some tense relationship between doctors and patients who are very ill in fear that they cold be ‘killed’ anytime thereby possibly dying of this fear. Above all, legalization of euthanasia would discourage medical research on cure to some serious diseases.
In deciding whether to legalize euthanasia or not, several things should thus be put into consideration. In whatever is done, nobody should harm the other. In Libertarian Principle, the law should protect citizens from all harm and safeguard their interests and values. Legislators have to agree that there exists a relationship between moral and civil law because the latter was made possible by an innate consciousness that some things were right others wrong. While legalization of euthanasia sounds more liberal, the effects it has on the society are far much lethal.