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Ethical Debate About Euthanasia

Updated April 20, 2022
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Ethical Debate About Euthanasia essay

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With the development of medical science and technology, medicine can prolong individual lives, but also prolong the suffering of patients at the end of life. Before the middle of the 20th century, on account of the low level of medical technology, when people were attacked by a fatal disease, death would come soon. Nowadays, many difficult diseases have become treatable. But it also can leave the individual facing a long, painful, and unbearable process. Thus, the awakening of the consciousness of “decent death” and the struggle for the right to die were generated. This gave rise to the word ‘euthanasia’.

Euthanasia is a way to help patients die with dignity. The origin of euthanasia comes from Greek, which means not painful, but happy death. In ancient Greece, abandoning the elderly was forbidden, but people were allowed to dispose of newborns with birth defects at will, and patients were allowed to end their own lives or die with the help of others. Although the practice obviously did not solicit the opinion of executed children, it undoubtedly met the most important requirements of euthanasia: The process of dying with the assistance of others and helping the person not to be held accountable. Therefore, this can be regarded as the origin of euthanasia. According to The Ethical Debate, Plato also approved of suicide as a way to relieve the suffering of the incurable: “Plato, for example, believed that suicide was generally cowardly and unjust but that it could be an ethically acceptable act if an individual had an immoral and incorrigible character, had committed a disgraceful action, or had lost control over his or her actions due to grief or suffering” (The Ethical Debate 78). Many philosophers, scholars, and statesmen such as Plato believe that it is reasonable to impose voluntary euthanasia on the old and the weak. It can be seen that ancient Greece held a positive attitude towards euthanasia.

Euthanasia has two behavioral classifications: the first is active euthanasia; the other is passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia is the act of taking measures to kill a patient, such as when the patient is unable to endure the terminal stages of the disease. Passive euthanasia means that a critically ill patient is resuscitated.

In general, the following six basic principles should be met in the implementation of euthanasia: 1) The patient had an incurable disease and was nearing death; 2) The patient was in excruciating pain; 3) It must be done for the sake of dealing with the suffering of the patient before he or she dies, not for the benefit of relatives, the state or the society; 4) There must be a genuine trust or consent of the patient when he is conscious; 5) In principle, it must be performed by physicians; 6) Appropriate methods recognized by social ethics norms must be adopted. The above six basic principles are equally indispensable.

Some methods of euthanasia, include drugs, injections, starvation, and dehydration or gases. These methods can increase the patient’s expectation of a peaceful death. But there is no one definition of a “good death”. According to the journal of the American Medical Association, one definition is “quality end-of-life care is a dynamic process that is negotiated and renegotiated among patients, families, and health care professionals” (Ethics – Euthanasia).

Euthanasia also is a social issue. According to a recent Gallup poll, in America “nearly 73% are in favor of giving physicians the ability to legally ‘end patient’s life by some painless means”. From worldwide data: in France, 85% people support euthanasia; in the U. K. two-thirds of doctors and 72% people support; and in Japan, 86% of those surveyed accepted the idea of dying with dignity. (Wood and McCarthy). These data are powerful numbers, and the proportion of support is increasing. Why do most people support euthanasia? Supporters think that Euthanasia legislation conforms to the principles of human dignity, humanitarianism and social justice, and is beneficial to the patient, his family members and society.

Euthanasia is a controversial social topic. While there are supporters, there are also opponents. Opponents believe that euthanasia is contrary to the duty of doctors to save the dying and heal the wounded, that it’s a moral distortion, and a disguised murder. According to The Ethical Debate, in the book show “Many religions understand life itself as something that is entrusted to persons by God, entailing a sense of individual responsibility that is often expressed in terms of ‘stewardship’” (The Ethical Debate 90). These opponents argue that people have the right to live in any case, and that no one can choose to end the life of others. They regard euthanasia as murder. Euthanasia opponents argue that the law should consider: 1. What are the criteria for selecting euthanasia objects and whether people have the right to request euthanasia; 2. Are medical workers and euthanasia patients clear about the meaning of euthanasia; 3. Whether there are defects in the decision-making process between patients, families, and doctors. Based on the above reasons, the general guideline for euthanasia legislation.

In America, different states have different laws to license physicians and to determines what is and is not a legitimate medical practice. It does not depend on the federal government. For example, in a groundbreaking case, Gonzales v.s Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court voted by 6 to 3 to supports Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law. Attorney General John Ashcroft, “under the Bush administration sought to punish doctors who prescribed drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives under the Controlled Substances Act” (Hanley). The court concluded that Oregon’s law replaced federal oversight of doctors. Now, just California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont have legalized physician assisted suicide. It may be legal in Montana after a court ruling. Some states will implement or legislate in succession.

Euthanasia is the thinking of development trend. At the same time, the debate about euthanasia will continue for a long time and no conclusion will be drawn in a short time. People have the right to live but they also have the right to die. People’s fear of death often comes from the process of welcoming death, enjoying the ‘right to die’ and ending the time facing death in advance, which is beneficial for patients. This is also a kind of respect for life, because at this special moment, the quality of life is more important than the length of life.

Works Cited

  1. New York State Task Force on Life and the Law. ‘Chapter 5 – The Ethical Debate.’ When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context, https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/task_force/reports_publications/when_death_is_sought/chap5.htm, 2000. pp.77-111.
  2. Hanley, Allison. ‘The ‘Right-To-Die’ in America: New Trends Explained.’ Ruggles Media.Https://www.northeastern.edu/iuhrp/wpcontent/uploads/2016/09/northeastern-iuhrp.png, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2018.
  3. “Ethics – Euthanasia: What Is a Good Death?” BBC, 2014, www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/overview/gooddeath.shtml.
  4. Wood, Jade, and McCarthy, Justin. “Majority of Americans Remain Supportive of Euthanasia.” Gallup.com, 12 June 2017, news.gallup.com/poll/211928/majority-americans-remain-supportive-euthanasia.aspx.
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