Voluntary Active Euthanasia Carlene Lawrence Hodges University PHI 3601 OL3 November 19, 2012 Abstract This paper will discuss the benefits of the legalization of Voluntary Active Euthanasia (VAE). It will define the differences between Active Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, as well as the difference between active and passive. We will look at VAE from a legal perspective, with discussion about specific court cases that have set precedence in this matter. We will also look at it from a moral point of view; from a perspective of Utilitarian and Subjectivist principles, to show that VAE should be considered morally correct.
Voluntary Active Euthanasia This paper will discuss the benefits of Active Voluntary Euthanasia (VAE). Although it is sometimes referred to as mercy killings, it is one of the most controversial topics in our world today. Many believe the right to live is one of the most important human rights. The right to die should be equally as important. First, we must discuss the difference between active and passive euthanasia. Active is the process by which a person is given something, such as a prescribed medication, to end their life, while passive is allowing a person to die naturally, not being given anything to help sustain their life.
Second, we must not confuse VAE with Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), as the two are quite different. With VAE, it is the doctor who administers life ending medications, with the patient’s permission, while with PAS, the patient is the one who ultimately ends their own life. It can be argued that there is no moral difference between active and passive, since the consequences, intentions, and actions are primarily the same. If medical treatment is withheld, allowing them to die naturally, this will prolong their pain and suffering, as well as that of their loved ones left to bear witness.
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It will also lead to large medical bills, which the families will be left to deal with. In an era where the culture is to provide rescue medicine, it is hard to decide what to do when facing end of life decisions for your loved ones. According to the Hippocratic Oath, physicians must “use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but will not use it to injure or wrong them” (Friend, 2011). While the actual Oath has been rewritten many times over the years, to reflect cultural changes, it has the same essence. But, who decides what is considered as injuring or wronging them?
One person may consider aiding in the death of another to be wrong, but the person dying may not. U. S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein (1194) wrote, “There is no more profoundly personal decision, no one which is closer to the heart of personal liberty, than the choice which a terminally ill person makes to end his or her suffering”. Assisted suicide and euthanasia have been worldly controversial for centuries. However, the first organizations created to support the legalization of such were in 1935 and 1938, in Great Britain and the United States, respectively.
Great strides have been made in the right direction though. Consider the case of Karen Ann Quinlan. In 1975, after mixing alcohol and drugs at a party, Karen become unconscious and slipped into a coma (Quinlan & Radimer, 2005). After months of watching their daughter suffer, being kept alive by machines, the family decided they knew their daughter would not want to live this way and requested she be taken off of the respirator. However, they quickly found out that their wish could not be carried out without a court order. They lost their first court battle in New Jersey Superior Court.
They appealed this decision and ended up in New Jersey State Supreme Court, where by a unanimous decision, they won. Karen’s father, Joseph Quinlan, was names as Karen’s guardian, and was permitted to make all healthcare choices for her. Julia Quinlan, Karen’s mother, writes: The ruling gave patients and families the right to live each stage of life, including the last stage, with dignity and respect, and for medical institutions such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes that would now be required to establish and maintain ethics committees.
In addition, the Quinlan case led to the creation of the “living will,” sometimes called an “advanced directive,” which outlines the personal wishes of the individual in regard to “extraordinary means” to maintain life. (Quinlan 2005) In 1990, 40 states collectively passed laws allowing competent citizens the right to make living wills. These documents put the power back into the hands of the ill, by allowing their wishes and voices to be heard when they themselves are unable to speak.
They instruct doctors to withhold life-supporting treatment and systems in the event a person becomes terminally ill. They can also instruct emergency doctors not to perform life resuscitating devices when a person has become injured or ill. It is the opinion of this writer and other proponents, like Compassion & Choices (http://www. compassionandchoices. org) that it become legal to include right to die choices like voluntary euthanasia. In ancient Rome and Greece, putting someone to death, or assisting in dying was acceptable in certain situations.
For example, it was acceptable to put to death newborns with severe birth defects. It wasn’t until Christianity started developing in the West, that euthanasia was determined to be morally and ethically wrong. It was, and still is, seen as a “violation of God’s gift of life”. (Abdulkadir, Ansari, & Sambo, 2012, p 673). This is where the ethical debate inevitably ensues. Opponents mostly come from the medical profession as well as religious groups. They believe that medical providers should be more concerned with caring and healing then curing and the ultimate outcome.
Legalizing active euthanasia could put too much power in the hands of the medical professionals, allowing the ill to be easily swayed and opening up the option for many lawsuits from surviving family members who do not agree with the practice. Proponents reason that keeping someone alive with medications and medical instruments, when they would otherwise die is not sustaining a true life. Also, they believe that this is not a question of if someone is to die, but how much they suffer in the interim. The main concern of health providers should be to ease or eliminate pain and suffering.
If we can accept that passive euthanasia (rejecting the use of life sustaining treatment) is ethically and morally correct, than we should also accept active euthanasia as well. Utilitarianism says that actions should be judges as morally acceptable or unacceptable based on increases and decreases in total happiness and/or misery (total meaning everyone involved, not just one individual (Barcalow, 2007). Using this as a guide, it can be determined that VAE would essentially be reducing misery by allowing terminally ill, and sick to die nstead of suffering. Therefore, it would be morally acceptable. Let us look at VAE from a Subjectivism standpoint. Subjectivism claims that “whatever an individual believes to be right or wrong is right or wrong for that individual” (Barclow, 2007). Therefore, what may be morally correct for one person may not be for another. Under this principle, we should consider that if you believe VAE to be morally incorrect, that does not stand to reason all of society believes this as well. Let’s look at euthanasia another way.
Merriam-Webster (2012) defines euthanasia as: “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”. In most states, where VAE is not legal, doctors are permitted to withhold medical treatment from a dying person, if that is their wish. While this is not considered actively administering life ending medication, it can still be considered actively allowing the person to die, if the treatment they are withholding would keep the person alive, even if only temporarily.
When defending the case for active euthanasia, often the subject of our pets inevitably comes up. It is common practice when our pets become ill or injured, to put them out of their misery, we have them, as we say, ‘put to sleep’, or ‘put down’. You never hear of someone keeping their pet alive on life sustaining machines and medications. When asked why they chose to put down their pet, almost everyone answers with they couldn’t bear to see the animal suffer. So then why do feel the need to keep our humans alive? Currently there are four states in the U. S. hat have legalized active euthanasia; Oregon in 1994 by the Oregon Death and Dignity Act, , Texas in 1999 by the Texas Futile Care Law, Washington in 2008 by the Washington Death and Dignity Act and Montana in 2008 through a trial court ruling, Baxter vs. Montana. It is also legal in several European and eastern countries, such as Belgium, Columbia, and the Netherlands. It is legal in certain situations in Switzerland. In conclusion, using the Utilitarian and Subjectivism Moral Principles, should consider voluntary active euthanasia morally acceptable. References Abdulkadir, A. B. , Ansari, A. H. , & Sambo, A.
O. (2012). The right to die via euthanasia: an expository study of the shari'ah and laws in selected jurisdictions. Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences, 673+ Barcalow, E. (2007). Moral philosophy: Theories and issues. (4th Ed. ed. ). Belmont: The Thomson Corporation. Daniel, P. S. (2011). Speaking of the value of life. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 21(2), 181-199,6. Euthanasia (a) in Merriam-webster online dictionary. (2012, March 09). Retrieved from http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/euthanasia Friend, Mary Louanne,M. N. , R. N. (2011). Physician-assisted suicide: Death with dignity?
Journal of Nursing Law, 14(3), 110-116. Doi Rothstein, B. R. (1994). Assisted suicide: Helping terminally ill. Knight-Ridder Newspapers, 12(10), 615. Mary, L. F. (2011). Physician-assisted suicide: Death with dignity? Journal of Nursing Law, 14(3), 110-116. doi/913146489 Quinlan, J. , ; Radimer, F. (2005). My joy, my sorrow. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press. Rachels, J. (1975) Active and passive euthanasia . The New England Journal of Medicine 292 78-80 Rachels, J. (2001) Killing and letting die. Encyclopedia of Ethics 2nd ed. 2 947-50 Steinbock, B. , ; Norcross, A. (1994). Killing and letting die. Fordham Univ Pr.
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