1. Define euthanasia and identify the difference between the types of euthanasia (passive/active euthanasia)
Active euthanasia means the intentional killing of a human being who is handicapped or physically or mentally ill by the administration of lethal drugs or some other method that will certainly result in death. Passive euthanasia is the withholding of food, water or medical care from a person with the intention of killing them indirectly, but it is also intentional. It can be voluntary when it is performed at the request of the individual or the family in the case of incompetent or comatose patients, or involuntary as in the T-4 program in Nazi Germany. In the latter, the victims were killed by active methods such as gas and lethal injections, as well as the deliberate denial of food, water and medical care. Assisted suicide means providing the individual with advice, information or lethal drugs that will result in their death, and is called physician-assisted suicide when these are provided by doctors or other medical personnel. In that situation, however, the individuals kill themselves with no active or passive involvement by outside parties. To be considered euthanasia or assisted suicide under the law, an act must be committed with the intention of causing death, rather than withholding unwanted or ineffective treatments on the request of the patient or using high doses of potentially lethal or addictive drugs to alleviate pain (Euthanasia Definitions, 2012, Euthanasia.com).
2. Discuss your beliefs regarding euthanasia. Are there any circumstances when you feel it is justified?
I have seen friends and relatives who are terminally ill and in great pain who wished they could die. Often they would say that they could not bear to go on living this way or that even animals were put out of their misery rather than allowed to go on suffering this way. I even know of terminally ill people who have killed themselves because they could not stand to go on any more, and this is perfectly understandable to me. I can hardly blame or condemn anyone on moral grounds if they simply cannot go on any longer like that, with a terminal and painful condition. If someone just quietly provided them with certain drugs that allowed them to go to sleep and not wake up again, I do not think the law should be involved at all. Of course personal choice is not the end-all and be-all in society, which is why legal and moral codes exist in the first place. People make mistakes in their choices all the time and frequently change their minds, such as many of those who make living wills about not being kept alive artificially who then change their minds with two years (Forman, 2008, p. 92). Others may decide to kill themselves out of depression or anxiety, or fear of their economic situation and becoming a burden on their families, but may come to regret their decision later. Of course, once the decision to die has been carried out, there are no more chances to revoke or reverse it.
I once heard a story about a medical convention that asked a large group of physicians to raise their hands if they had never practiced euthanasia, and not a single hand went up. Obviously, the Hippocratic Oath does not explicitly allow the killing of patients, but there is some kind of loophole there that permits the ending of needles pain and suffering for the terminally ill. I suspect that this type of euthanasia goes on all the time and always has, but the legal authorities almost never get involved in it. There have been studies of clandestine euthanasia and assisted suicide in Britain, Australia and the U.S. which indicate that it accounts for less than 1% of all deaths, compared to about 3% in the Netherlands where the practice is legal. This is very likely an underestimate, although I do agree that “laws discouraging assisted suicide and euthanasia really may have an effect on how frequently such actions are carried out”, which after all is their purpose (Gorsuch, 2009, p. 223). I do have more doubts and reservations about euthanasia when governments, bureaucrats and insurance companies get involved, however, especially in this society where money and profits are the true religion rather than concern about human health and welfare.
3. Define and describe the special populations as presented on the Pro/Con web site, and how this population might be adversely affected by euthanasia. Discuss your beliefs regarding euthanasia and these special populations.
I can certainly believe that bureaucrats, politicians, hospitals and insurance companies would regard the poor, elderly, disabled and minorities as a burden on society, and that they would make their decisions about lives to be terminated as a purely utilitarian calculation of cost and benefit. After all, in the United States, the poor and members of minority groups receive low-quality medical care in any case, and often no medical care at all, simply because they are not profitable to the system. In our society, too, I think the elites care about money and economic interests rather than the rights or wellbeing of individuals, and that they care little about the poor, the weak and disabled, or relatively powerless minority groups.
In short, I simply do not trust them to ‘do the right thing’ for ordinary people in this society and I also think that many doctors and hospitals are purely profit-minded. It would just be cheaper and more efficient from their point of view to provide these patients with some drugs and free up resources for others whose lives are considered more valuable, or at least more profitable. It is true that under Oregon’s assisted suicide law, the poor, minorities and disadvantaged have not been disproportionately represented among those whose lives were ended. Even so, Oregon is a relatively liberal and enlightened state compared to many other parts of the country, with a relatively small minority population, and those is the medical profession are going to be influenced by considerations of race and class as much as anyone else in this society. No one in the medical profession is “exempt from the prejudices manifest in other areas of our collective life” (Top Ten Pros and Cons, 2012, Euthanasia Pro/Con.org).
4. Identify and describe the law(s) concerning physician assisted suicide in the state you reside or the state you consider your home state. Compare and contrast laws in your home state against either Oregon's Death with Dignity Act or another state of your choice.
I reside in Florida, which is one of thirty-four states that prohibit euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide by statutory law. According to Florida Code 765.309, both passive and active forms of euthanasia are banned, along with “any affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life other than to permit the natural process of dying” and the “withdrawing of life-prolonging procedures from a patient” (Florida Euthanasia Laws, 2012, FindLaw.com). In contrast, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act “allows—but does not require—doctors to prescribe medication to competent, terminally ill patients, knowing that the medication is going to be used by the patient to end his life” (Assisted Suicide, 2004, American Bar Association Family Legal Guide).
Assisted Suicide (2004). American Bar Association Family Legal Guide. FindLaw.com.
Assisted Suicide Laws by State (2012). Euthanasia.com.
Euthanasia Definitions (2012). Euthanasia.com.
Forman, L. (2008). Assisted Suicide. Edna, MN: ABDO Publishing Company.
Florida Euthanasia Laws (2012). FindLaw.com.
Gorsuch, N. (2009). The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton University Press.
Top Ten Pros and Cons (2012). Euthanasia Pro/Con.org.