The Right to Choose
The word euthanasia comes from the Greek eu good and thanatos death. But there has been a more complex meaning developed in recent times. The word euthanasia has now come to mean doing something to achieve a good death. Doing something, either positive or negative, about getting that good death (Humphry 80).
The world is concerned about the denial of human rights. Human rights violations include imprisonment without trial, torture, killing, and discrimination. A less recognized but also important violation is increasingly occurring in our freedom-loving country. We deny incurable patients the right to die with dignity. Individuals, who have
Distaste for such openness about voluntary euthanasia undoubtedly lies within the realm of modern man s horror of irrational suicide. Suicide for an emotional reason is always tragic and almost always unnecessary. Nevertheless, suicide is endemic in humankind. However much we regret it, suicide will not go away. Moreover, if we care so much, why do we not do more about prevention, such as teaching parents to recognize the signs of potential suicide in their children? According to statistics, the suicide rate in the Western world appears to be rising steadily, particularly among the youth (Nuland 144-145). The other side of the argument, however, will not disappear or retreat just because of our distaste for emotional suicide.
The course of nature once seemed unalterable. Now, advances in medical technology have allowed terminally ill and permanently unconscious patients, who once died quickly from complications or from an inability to eat and drink, to be kept alive dramatically longer than ever before. The newfound capabilities of medical science have brought difficult right-to-die issues into the lives of many dying patients. Patients and their families need to make decisions about when life should end. Although modern medicine does much to prolong lives, the extension of life does not necessarily mean that it has extended its quality. Some people can accept a diminishment of the things that make life worth living; others cannot. Not only does it take sensitivity to make individual assessments about the quality of life, but it also takes courage and determination to cut short that existence as the one sure way to take command of the medical situation.
In addition, dying can be slow and agonizing. Pain, which can be devastating, is not the only problem. Other symptoms, such as breathlessness and nausea, can be worse and even harder to relieve. The best palliative care and strongest pain medication often cannot remedy the ravages of chronic illness (Humphry 73). The vomiting, wasting, immobility, incontinence, and total dependence are elements of some deaths that destroy life s quality. Under these circumstances, some people simply want to get it over with. They must have the legal right to choose a gentle, humane, quick, and certain death and to be assisted by a doctor who can prescribe the appropriate means.
Compassionate doctors have helped dying patients to end their lives by turning off life support, giving large doses of morphine, or prescribing more sleeping pills than necessary. Nevertheless, this secret, unpredictable, and illegal practice depends more on the doctors courage and compassion than on the patients needs and wishes (Ahronheim and Weber 78-80). Doctors should have a choice, too. They would not have to comply with requests for an overdose or lethal injection, but they would have the option of doing so without becoming criminals.
Doctor-assisted suicide for dying patients is a personal and private matter, and it should be decided that way, not as a political matter in state legislatures. Sooner or later, one way or another, the practice will become legal. For the state to require terminally ill patients to endure unbearable suffering is callous and unseemly. The right to choose to die with dignity at life s end is the ultimate civil liberty for a person who has given the matter careful consideration and taken all possible steps to advise others. If we cannot die according to our personal wishes, then we are not free and democratic people (Humphry 164).
Nuland, Stephen B. How We Die: Reflections on Life s Final Chapter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
Outerbridge, David E., and Alan R. Hersh, M.D. Easing the Passage. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.