Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.
The right to die debate is an emotive and contentious one. The arguments are usually focused around the ethics and legalities of allowing people who are terminally ill to request and receive assisted dying.
Often the biggest problems exist around who should decide if the euthanasia should be carried out, especially if the person in question is not in a fit state to make their own decision for reasons of illness or injury.
Euthanasia, or ‘mercy killing’ as it can also sometimes be called, is legal or partially legal in some countries. These include Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Even in the countries where it is illegal, the law is often not enforced in practice.
Euthanasia didn’t become a major issue until the 20th Century when advances in medicine meant that doctors were able to keep hospital patients alive for very long periods of time, even when they had lost many of their basic bodily functions through sickness or injury.
Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia have been profound ethical issues confronting doctors since the birth of Western medicine, more than 2,000 years ago.
— Ezekiel Emanuel
There are essentially two forms that euthanasia can take: ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’.
- Active euthanasia is where somebody is effectively killed—they may, for instance, be given an overdose of morphine.
- Passive euthanasia is where a person dies because the medicine or treatment that is keeping them alive is withdrawn or stopped.
Religious attitudes towards the question of should people have the right to die vary. Islam and the Roman Catholic church are very much opposed, whereas protestants and people who follow the Japanese Shinto religion tend to be more sympathetic to the idea of mercy killing.
The Dalai Lama has stated that although Buddhism generally considers euthanasia to be wrong, there are exceptional cases and that these matters should be considered on a case by case basis.
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Below are the main for and against arguments that people use in the right-to-die debate.
If I had terminal cancer, I had a few weeks to live, I was in tremendous amount of pain - if they just effectively wanted to turn off the switch and legalise that by legalising euthanasia, I'd want that.
— John Key
7 Pros of Euthanasia
- People should be allowed to choose—there could not be a more fundamental issue of individual liberty than the right to decide whether to live or to die. Control over one's own body should be a fundamental right.
- Euthanasia can reduce or prevent human suffering by relieving people who are suffering extreme pain. Forcing people to suffer against their will is wrong.
- It can also relieve suffering where someone’s quality of life has become drastically low.
- It can free up health care resources to help someone else who is severely ill.
- Modern medicine can often keep people alive indefinitely, even if they are not conscious, it is therefore imperative that rules for when it is right to end a life are explored, rather than a blanket ban on termination under certain circumstances.
- Euthanasia does not mean a lack of caring or compassion, on the contrary, the patient's needs are put first.
- Allowing living wills opens up the possibility of people determining themselves whether their life is artificially extended after encountering serious illness or health issues.
6 Cons of Euthanasia
- The idea that every human life is precious and has value is undermined by euthanasia.
- Most medical professionals do not want to be involved with killing patients, as it is the total opposite to what they see as their purpose, which is healing people and saving lives.
- There is a danger that euthanasia could be used to control health care costs, with the patient's needs and wishes taking second place.
- Whatever the theory, disputes over mercy killings can often be very difficult in practice, as it is not always clear what the patient wants, or is in their interests. It is likely that more euthanasia requests would result in more extended legal battles. Take, for instance, the case of the Florida woman, Terri Schiavo, who was in a coma for years. Her husband wanted the hospital to remove her feeding tube and her parents fought a legal battle to try to stop that from happening.
- If voluntary euthanasia is allowed, then there is a danger of it developing into a slippery slope situation where say, sick elderly people end up having their lives terminated because selfish relatives don’t want to look after them, or out of greed for inheritance money.
- Euthanasia has a dark history and was used in Nazi Germany for the extermination of children and adults that the government found undesirable, such as the disabled. Keeping it illegal means that no government can ever use it for political means.
Of all the arguments against voluntary euthanasia, the most influential is the 'slippery slope': once we allow doctors to kill patients, we will not be able to limit the killing to those who want to die.
— Peter Singer
Patients who are being kept alive by technology and want to end their lives already have a recognized constitutional right to stop any and all medical interventions, from respirators to antibiotics. They do not need physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.
— Ezekiel Emanuel
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is involuntary euthanasia legal?
Answer: Involuntary euthanasia is widely considered to be a crime. Although the concept of euthanasia had advocates in a number of countries, including the USA, in the early 20th Century, it fell out of grace after German Nazi atrocities in the 1930's and 1940's. During this dark period, many mentally and physically disabled people, as well as incurably ill and elderly people, were terminated on the grounds that they were a threat to the well being of the Aryan race. The Nazis later widened their program to include the euthanizing of people from ethnic groups that they believed to be inferior.
© 2011 Paul Goodman