Is it ever considered morally correct to end the life of a terminally ill patient who is constantly living in severe pain and suffering day after day? Is there ever a justifiable reason to potentially murder someone even if it is under their own wishes and pretences? Do we have the right to play the role of God? These are just some of the many questions the issue of Euthanasia raises.
Euthanasia is referred to as the practice of intentionally ending the life of someone in order to relieve them from incurable pain and suffering. This controversial topic and whether or not to make it legal in Australia has been in the media and debated upon constantly and this essay will provide an insight into some of the varying perspectives present. I will be exploring the ethics and moral values of this issue and will also be looking at the pros and cons surrounding this controversial topic. Perspectives from those for and against the legalising of euthanasia in Australia will be discussed and I will also be providing my own opinion and thoughts to display my full analysis after extensively researching this significant topic.
Euthanasia; is it possible to think that we are saving the lives of others by ending them?
What is it about Euthanasia that makes it so significant in our society today?
Over the past 100 years, medicine has advanced substantially. However, there still are many sicknesses that not only cannot be cured at present which cause incredible suffering to people who have them. The practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering is one that has been the subject of many moral, religious, philosophical, legal and human right debates in Australia.
Euthanasia involves a clash of two important values: the desire of individuals to choose to die with dignity when suffering, and the need to uphold the inherent right to life of every person.
The pro and anti-euthanasia advocates are presenting their cases to the public through the use of emotional persuasion and evidence?
The pro-euthanasia case is quick and easy to make: It focuses on a terminally ill, seriously suffering patient who gives informed consent to euthanasia and bases its claims on the understanding to respect a person’s right to autonomy and dignity. The case against euthanasia, however, is more complex. It has to take into account what the impact of legalising euthanasia would be not only in the present, but also in the future, and what protection of vulnerable people and society demands.
The pro-euthanasia case relies on “bad natural death” stories that explain the extreme suffering of terminally ill people who die a natural death after progressively suffering with no way to ease the pain. It promotes euthanasia as essential and outlines that without the implication of it in cases it puts the patient through cruelty. Advocates argue that terminally ill patients should have the right to assisted suicide because it is in the best means for them to end the pain caused by an illness which no drug can cure. It clearly expresses their view that a competent terminally ill patient must have the option of assisted suicide because it is in the best interest of that person. This right would allow patients to leave this earth with dignity, save their families from financial ruin, and relieve them of insufferable pain.
Anti-euthanasia advocates counter these stories with “good natural death” ones of people dying naturally and peacefully, in the presence of those they love, feeling that they have had a completed life. They believe that if the right to assisted suicide is given, the doctor-patient relationship would encourage distrust. They fear that there is room for potential misuse of the right to assisted suicide that will arise over time and claim that terminally ill patients might be forced to choose assisted suicide because of their financial situation or worse, that patients may be too ill and the decision is made by relatives, medics or, in some instances, the courts taking away the right of choice altogether.
Regardless of whether you are pro or anti-euthanasia, it is currently illegal in Australia, yet two underlying questions remain:
- Under what circumstances can euthanasia be considered justifiable, if at all?
- Is there any distinctive moral difference between killing someone and letting them die?
In regards to the legalisation of euthanasia in Australia specifically, the Northern Territory likes to think of itself as the frontier country. On the 1 July 1996, it became the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass laws allowing a doctor to end the life of a terminally ill patient at the patient’s request. In doing so, the law permitted both physician-assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia in some circumstances. Under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT) strict conditions applied, outlining that it is neither an unqualified ‘licence to kill’ nor an unqualified affirmation of a competent patient’s right to assistance in dying.
The act caused an uproar globally, with both criticism and support for the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 from authorities such as politicians, health care professionals, religious groups, academics, the media, members of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ pressure groups and members of the general public.
The Australian Medical Association expressed their opinion and condemned the act, saying the legislation devalued human life. This standpoint is similar to that of an Oregon Right To Life lobbyist in the United States, Ms Gail Atteberry. She claimed that she was ‘horrified’ by the new law, and believed it would lead to a new kind of tourism stating: “I strongly believe that the Northern Territory will not only become the suicide capital of Australia but of the world”.
In contrary to this, the beliefs of the President of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations welcomed the act as a “great achievement” and a “very good example of a humane, compassionate law that responds to community demand and society’s needs”. Mr Robin Fletcher, a spokesman for the Hemlock Society (the largest pro-euthanasia group in the United States) also stated the law was ‘wonderful’. “It sounds like it was well-thought-out and a compassionate answer to an ongoing societal problem”.
Once again society was split on their views on this topic and as a result of this uproar, the legalisation of euthanasia in the Northern Territory was overturned by the Federal Government of Australia.
International trends, growing Australian political support, strong community expectation and the weakening of key opposing arguments, all point to other states in Australia legalising Voluntary Assisted Dying such as the State of Victoria which is going to be legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in mid-2019.
I believe that the eventual outcome for euthanasia will be that it becomes legal in all states of Australia. I believe this will be done by allowing a doctor to comply with a request from a terminally ill, competent patient for assistance in ending the patient’s life where the terminal illness is causing the patient ‘severe pain and suffering’ and there are no palliative care options that alleviate this to a level acceptable to the patient.
I do however feel that some doctors will struggle if the laws in our country are changed. Doctors are trained to heal and save lives wherever possible, not intentionally take the life of another human being; it is against our powerful, mental instinct. I believe we all agree we must never ignore the heart-wrenching pleas of both those who are suffering and those who love them and want their loved one’s suffering ended. But I believe many doctors will take the viewpoint that we must continue to work on advancing the area of medicine to kill the pain and suffering, not the person with the pain and suffering.
An analogy that swayed my perspective on the legalisation of euthanasia is that dogs do not have many advantages over people, but one of them is extremely important: euthanasia is not forbidden by law in their case; animals have the right to a merciful death so it is my view suffering humans should also have this right.