Whether or not the right to liberty should be protected and observed at the time of death is a matter of debate. Philosophically speaking, right to liberty at the time of death ought to be upheld because the ultimate quality differentiating human beings from animals is the capacity to make decisions. Right to liberty is essentially the right to make decisions. The debate revolving around the right to liberty is the foundation for the concept of The Legal Right to Die (Palmer 87). Over the years, various decisions have been made with regard to the legal right to die. The landmark case on which the right to die is based is Compassion in Dying vs. Washington. However, another case, Quill vs. Koppell denied the possibility of there being such a right as a right to die. The Supreme Court of the United States outlawed the concept of assisted suicide. As such, the right to personal liberty ought to be protected at the time of death.
The need for the protection of persons belonging to vulnerable groups is paramount. Such vulnerable people are mostly old people, and those suffering from terminal diseases. Terminal diseases include all types of cancer, HIV and other incurable diseases associated with imminent death. Such people are usually considered vulnerable because their decision making capacities are not reliable (Jecker et al 32). The healthcare professionals are charged with the responsibility of protecting the rights of the vulnerable people. The doctors and other healthcare professionals are protected by intent. The intent of the activities and decisions of the doctors are a justifiable protection as long such intent is legally, morally and ethically rational.
There is a notable difference between killing and letting die. The difference can be explained from a conceptual and an epistemological perspective. From a conceptual perspective, killing refers to the forceful taking away of an individual’s life. On the other hand, the epistemology in the difference refers to the reality that killing is the immoral action concerned with the cessation of the human life. On the other hand, letting die is the omission of all those efforts that could potentially save a person’s life or stops the cessation of human life (Palmer 56). However, letting die and killing are weighed and considered differently. According to some thinkers, killing is more immoral than letting die. On the contrary, others think letting die is a little more immoral. However, when the Equivalence Thesis is applied, the two are equally bad because they end in the loss of life. In the nursing profession, killing is associated with active euthanasia while letting die is associated with passive euthanasia.
Active euthanasia and passive euthanasia are among the factors triggering the most notable controversies in the field of nursing. Essentially, active euthanasia entails giving a lethal injection to intentionally end the life of an individual in a vegetative state, or a person facing imminent death, and in a critical condition beyond which lies no hope. Typically, active euthanasia is associated with killing. Passive euthanasia is associated with letting a person die gradually. This is also applied where the doctors and the healthcare experts establish that there is virtually nothing that they can do. Whether or not passive euthanasia is more immoral than active euthanasia is a matter of debate. Letting die is however considered more immoral than killing because it prolongs the pain of the person facing death. For instance, passive euthanasia can be applied for well over a week. Still, the end is death – and a painful death for that matter. On the contrary, active euthanasia is applied and its results are instantaneous – hence reducing the pain, or rather the period over which the pain is experienced.
Death has not standard, universally accepted definition. This is essentially because science – both medical and social – has not effectively given a perfect definition of life. While this is the case, death has been defined from many perspectives. Primarily, death is the irretrievable cessation of all organismic functioning of a living thing. Human death therefore is the permanent cessation of the functioning of all the organs that are required to keep the body alive. While death can be defined from philosophical and biological perspectives, the best way to define death should be a combination of both perspectives, thus: death is the irreversible cessation of the functioning of the necessary organs, such as the brain and the heartbeat, and the irretrievable loss of personhood.
During the end of life, we are basically dealing with moral and legal issues. Apparently, when a person is dying, there are a number of moral issues surrounding the decisions made. For instance, a person that is in a vegetative state cannot competently make a decision as to whether to be subjected to active or passive euthanasia. As such, the decisions are made by other competent people, primarily the family of the individual, or any professional practitioner, especially in the event that such family members do not exist (Palmer 112). Similarly, there are such legal issues as the decisions surrounding the making and execution of the will. Additionally, the right to liberty is essentially observed at the end of life environment because it is the core of decision making.
The distinction between 'active' and 'passive' death cannot be maintained meaningfully because there are different approaches adopted in the endeavor to explain the morality issues surrounding the two concepts. Basically, philosophers have come up with various explanations of the morality issues underlying the two resultant concepts – killing and letting die. Apparently, the opponents of killing argue that there is no moral justification in taking away an individual’s life (Jecker et al 44). On the contrary, the opponents of letting die, argues that the procedure is even more tormenting as it subjects the patient to a more painful and longer experience. It therefore goes without saying that there is no sustainable explanation of the distinction between passive and active death.
A competent adult facing imminent death should have the liberty to pursue any means for a future meaningful life. This is essentially because, such people, including HIV patients have the liberty and right to make decisions as long as they are considered competent, and as having the capacity to make decisions (Jecker et al 114). Adults facing imminent death are not in any way lesser beings. As such, they should be granted access to the rights and freedoms enjoyed by other healthy people. the likelihood that life will be continued using 'any means necessary' matters to a great extent to my assessment because if life will not be continued, then there will be absolutely no moral justification in pursuing the ‘any means necessary’ as life is the ultimate goal of such efforts.
James Rachels has a number of arguments leading to the conclusion active euthanasia is equally as bad as passive euthanasia because both lead to the loss of life and ultimately the loss of personhood. Perhaps the most prominent argument made by Rachels is the one based on the Equivalence Thesis. According to the equivalence thesis, letting a person die is the same as killing a person. According to the equivalence thesis, there is no difference between making something happen and letting such a thing happen (Jecker et al 64). Hence, there is no difference between refusing to sign an organ donor agreement and stabbing one’s spouse on such allegations as cheating. However, as a reconstruction of this argument, it is clear that making something happen can sometimes be a heavier wrong than letting such a thing happen.
Consider ka person that stabs his wife to death and a doctor who applies passive euthanasia. Ultimately, both victims will die. Even so, the man that stabs his wife does so in the middle of life, when the wife is in good health and is not facing imminent death. On the contrary, the patient that is given passive euthanasia faces imminent death, and such euthanasia acts to reduce unnecessary further pain. It is therefore clear to see that in some situations letting happen can be less immoral than making happen. As such, the doctors that apply active euthanasia should not be allowed to do so on the grounds that their passive euthanasia is sometimes permissible.
Palmer, Michael F. Moral Problems in Medicine: A Practical Coursebook. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2005. Print.
Jecker, Nancy A. S, Albert R. Jonsen, and Robert A. Pearlman. Bioethics: An Introduction to the History, Methods, and Practice. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2007. Print.