Euthanasia has been a hot topic for decades. Many people around the world and in Australia support euthanasia. It is hard to infer conclusively if the majority of the global populace is in favour of euthanasia but it is true that a large number of people is against legalising assisted suicide or the right to die with dignity and you may use other terms to basically imply the same. Many people call it mercy killing, others use the term physician assisted suicide and some describe it as murder. There are many aspects of euthanasia and ethics or ethical reasons are one part of the entire argument. There are medical aspects, financial ramifications and humanitarian facets that are not always about ethics or morality but very real consequences that arise out of having the option to die with dignity and denying the people the same right.
Ethical Issues of Euthanasia
There are medical arguments in favour and against euthanasia. Likewise, there are ethical arguments in favour and against euthanasia. Let us first discuss the ones in favour. Every human being on the planet has a fundamental right to live, much like the right to liberty, free speech and equality as guaranteed by constitutions of different countries and also by international laws. Should every human being on the planet also have the right to die? This is the basic dilemma.
A person should be able to decide whether or not one must endure the unbearable pain and continue to suffer. It is the person who is suffering and no one else should have the right or any say in the matter. Others can empathise, sympathise, be compassionate and even take care of a terminally ill or disabled person who has no hope to recover or be cured. Others cannot actually share the pain or take the place of the person so it is futile to even have the rest of the world decide on behalf of the ailing individual. A civilised and more importantly mature society should guarantee the right to die with or in dignity and without pain & suffering. Every individual is the sole custodian of their physical self or the human body. It is everyone’s right to decide what one wishes to do with their physical self.
Proponents of euthanasia argue that forcing a person to live on despite the pain & suffering, hopelessly since one knows there is no cure or recovery is actually a breach of the other fundamental rights, such as right to liberty or the right to decide how one wishes to live their life. Right to self determination, which is an argument used by many activists and lawyers with diverse causes, should be applicable to terminally ill patients. This perspective establishes the simple fact that it is unethical, immoral and even cruel to compel a person to continue to live in unbearable pain and suffering.
Critics of euthanasia and those who firmly stand opposed to legalising mercy killing or assisted suicide argue that it is not for someone to decide when one must die, just as one cannot control when he or she is born. This is indeed an ethical issue with euthanasia but it is mostly given a religious hue. Most religions do not propagate any concept of the right to die in dignity. There are nonreligious ethical concerns too. Critics argue that euthanasia can be misused. If euthanasia is legalised, people could be abused using the law and many vested interests could come into play whenever someone is terminally ill or if a person becomes unmanageable for any reason whatsoever. The laws that exist around the world vary considerably and there is enough room for loopholes. Euthanasia is illegal in most countries around the world but there are doctors who still administer lethal drugs or stop palliative care to help a terminally ill patient die.
Another set of ethical issues pertain to the medical profession. Doctors take an oath to do everything in their capacity to help save a life and to help people be completely cured or recovered. There is nothing in the oath or in any part of the training that doctors undergo that permit them to help people end their lives. The essence of the medical profession is not to assist in a suicide, even if it is mercy killing. Hence, doctors also face this moral dilemma, albeit not all. Is it acceptable for a doctor who actually saves lives to end lives? A parallel can be drawn, although not identical, that of a mother who gives life through birth being given a right to take life.
Most of the ethical reasons that have been highlighted here are unlikely to be resolved through any debate. People will always have their beliefs and they would think, act and react accordingly. Global perception about euthanasia has changed substantially in the last five decades. While most people were stringently against it in the last century, most people in developed countries tend to favour euthanasia but they also insist on having stringent conditions. According to various studies conducted in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and many European countries, most people want legislation to clearly define the conditions, diseases or disabilities that would be considered acceptable for euthanasia. Many people do not want family members to have any veto or any role whatsoever. Many people want doctors and lawyers to be actively involved in the process so the law cannot be misused by healthcare professionals, patients, families or society as a whole.