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Euthanasia Pros and Cons: Should People Have the Right to Die?

Updated on October 22, 2016
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now 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 exists 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 is sometimes also known as, is legal or partially legal in some countries, such as Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. In practice, however, even in the countries where it is illegal, the law is often not enforced.

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
The English fantasy novelist, Terry Pratchett, who sufferes from Alzheimer's disease and has publicly stated that he wishes to commit 'assisted suicide' in advance of his disease reaching a critical point.
The English fantasy novelist, Terry Pratchett, who sufferes from Alzheimer's disease and has publicly stated that he wishes to commit 'assisted suicide' in advance of his disease reaching a critical point. | Source

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Passive euthanasia is where a person dies because the medicine or treatment that is keeping them alive is withdrawn or stopped.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.

I hope that you find my list of euthanasia pros and cons interesting and useful. I have attempted to include all 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
British king George V was given a fatal dose of morphine and cocaine by his physician, Lord Dawson.  He was suffering from cardio-respiratory failure and the drugs were intended to hasten his death.  The incident was kept secret for fifty years.
British king George V was given a fatal dose of morphine and cocaine by his physician, Lord Dawson. He was suffering from cardio-respiratory failure and the drugs were intended to hasten his death. The incident was kept secret for fifty years. | Source

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.

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
Dr. Felix Adler was the first prominent American to argue for allowing suicide in cases of chronic illness.  He was also Chairman of the National Child Labor Comittee. This photograph of him dates from around 1913.
Dr. Felix Adler was the first prominent American to argue for allowing suicide in cases of chronic illness. He was also Chairman of the National Child Labor Comittee. This photograph of him dates from around 1913. | Source

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.

Controversial billboard made by Exit International, an organization who campaign for the legalization of euthanasia.
Controversial billboard made by Exit International, an organization who campaign for the legalization of euthanasia. | Source
  • There is a danger that euthanasia could be used to control health care costs, with the patients 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 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.

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

Do you think euthanasia should be legal?

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© 2011 Paul Goodman

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    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 5 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi Paul, I wrote a hub on the same subject about "choice". On the con side there is the one about the Dr's wanting to heal the patients. There is also the question that arises there. Do they want to heal them or play God and just prove they can keep them alive no matter what? There is also the question, "Are they able to heal them, or do they just want to keep that money coming in as long as possible". There are times when there is NO hope for a person and they still keep them "alive", if you want to call some of the cases living, and the person is in constant pain, which also costs money to relieve the pain. It's terrible to think that we make people suffer just for the good old dollar, but some do. BUT, it should be only the patients choice or the Dr's insurance that there is no hope, if the Dr is honest with himself and the family. Greg

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Your hub raises some great points. Good topic and hub.

    • profile image

      Hitler 4 years ago

      If I was alive and I won, I would have had this legalized.

    • profile image

      teddybear 3 years ago

      I feel that it should be your choice to live with pain or die in defeat.

    • profile image

      Sanxuary 2 years ago

      I by no means advocate that suicide should be legal but everyone will face death at some point and have to decide that modern medicine may be keeping me alive, but my quality of life is past living. We use to not have the problem of modern medicine determining when to move on. It was hard to watch a relative of mine move on because this person decided to no longer seek treatment. Modern medicine gave this person another 20 years but still you our thinking that person could be here. In reality this person had stopped functioning quite some time ago and I was already missing that person every time I visited. In this case the person had simply stopped seeking treatment but the whole question of when and for what reason is an interesting one that has to many ifs. We do not call it suicide when you perish saving some one else's life. Then again if medical treatment will cost a million dollars at what point is the price to high. Is it worth it if you live in pain and can not function the rest of your life?

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 2 years ago from Corona, California.

      In my eyes there is a big difference in "living" and "existing". Greg

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      Mike 4 months ago

      There is another vital reason for being against euthanasia that was missed in this article. Namely, that euthanasia is not the only option for alleviating pain. Palliative care involves caring for people at the end of their lives who are suffering from extreme physical pain. Rather than killing the person, palliative care kills the pain, which is the real reason people promote euthanasia in the first place.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 4 months ago from Corona, California.

      My reasoning for wanting to have the choice to die is, I have seen too many people that can't take care of themselves and just sit all day like a vegetable. All they are doing is existing and someone else is having to take care of them. I, personally, don't want to exist like that. When I can't take care of myself I would rather be dead. I will be 70 in May, 2017, and the thought of just existing is the one thing that scares me. It should be by choice and that would be MY choice.

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