Death is a certain phenomenon of life. Everyone who arrives in this world has to die ultimately; however, the date, time and manner of death of each and every person is not defined and hence, it would be wise to make the time as much advantageous as possible. Moreover, the advancements in technology have made the life span longer than of those from the past. Today, medical science has been evolved from typical classical approaches towards a better and more scientific means of equipments and descriptions. Treatments of severe diseases like cancer and tumors is possible today and thus many lives can be saved by new emerging technology. Organs can now be transplanted to provide a nearly dead person another chance to live and survive. But sometimes, a stage arrives even in this modern world of technology, when medical science fails to provide the chances to remain alive or to provide relief from severe pain caused by different diseases. In such cases, upon the request and with the permission of patient and his/her family, they are injected with a high dose of muscle relaxant which eventually causes cardiac arrest and the patient dies. This deliberate act of ending one’s life in order to relieve him/her from long lasting suffering is termed as euthanasia.
For example, severe cases of higher brain death that include damages to major lobe can lead a person towards adverse psychological behaviors such as non-cognitivism and non-person hood or drastic social behaviors such as inabilities to recognize one’s own self and unconsciousness. In such cases, the patient loses his/her social and moral characteristics and regarded as socially dead, therefore, physicians undergo practicing euthanasia over them, so as to provide them relief from such useless life. However, the practice is performed under the medical and ethical laws of the resident country.
Historical Context of Euthanasia
The term "euthanasia" literally means “a good and happy death”. The word is usually referred towards Ancient Greek and Latin, since it was used by Suetonius to describe the quick death of Augustus as euthanasia. The phenomenon involved moral ethics since the ancient times, when the debates upon other ethical issues such as abortion and suicide were also on stake. Just as abortion has been denied by Bible, regarding it as equivalent to kill a born human being and those who perform that had to suffer an excommunication from the society; similarly practicing euthanasia was considered as an assisted suicide and was highly dis-respected amongst the masses and scholars. However, philosophers including Plato, Socrates and Hemlock were in the favor of performing euthanasia according to a person’s will, who want a hastening death to get rid of severe and long-term sufferings. On the contrary, Hippocrates appeared to have condemned euthanasia by all means by saying, “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel”.
Till 17th century, euthanasia was continuously debated by physicians and philosophers as there were equal amounts of arguments in the support and against the act. People who were against euthanasia regard it as unnatural and against the laws of God, while those in the favor defined euthanasia as a painless death which is brought to the patients of ultimate sufferings, with no chances of cure. However, in those times, euthanasia was brought to patients by painful means; including heavy bleeding, bringing cold environment to the patients, sudden removal of pillow and suffocation etc. These means were also disregarded as they brought more pain to the patient and allow him to take a lot of time and struggle while dying. Thus euthanasia has been a controversial issue and has been discussed a lot with several pros and cones suggested.
Euthanasia in Modern World
Even in today’s modern society, euthanasia is an ethical issue that cannot be justified through any of the supporters or by those who are against it. It was in late 19th century when the use of anesthetics such as chloroform was suggested to hasten the death of those patients who have any kind of chronic illness. However, the phenomenon was advised to practice only if the patient himself wanted to do so, i.e., to end his life so that he could get rid of the chronic miseries. The phenomenon was then termed as “voluntary euthanasia”. However, the suggestions like these were condemned at the same time by many different physician and religious scholars, arguing that such practices are against Christian teachings and overall, are immoral, unethical and against humanity. During the same era, the earliest US statues (1828) include assisted suicide as a crime and prohibit any such act of provide aid in any kind of harmful material to the person who wants to commit suicide. Then there came the dawn of 20th century, which along with many other reformations; brought forward the 1906 Euthanasia Movement in US, when several bills had been presented in the favor of performing voluntary euthanasia in adults, and in children with some mental or physical disability. Every such movement failed to make its impression on a larger scale and euthanasia remained illegal throughout US.
It was in 1935 when the Euthanasia Movement took a shape in Britain, in the form of Dignity in Dying Movement from C.K. Millard. He established Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society with an effort to legalize voluntary euthanasia in entire UK, which eventually failed. Then in 1939, Hitler in Nazi Germany performed euthanasia in a large number regarding it as the “mercy killing” of mentally or physically disable infants. The genocide of handicapped and disables reached to a number of more than 100,000 children and adults. While doing so, the human rights were adversely violated as the victims were brought to death by gas chambers and other brutal means of killing. Thus this “state-sponsored euthanasia” is highly disregarded in the history as the massive killing of people by adapting brutal means. Also, it was in contrast with the actual meanings of “euthanasia”, i.e. pleasant death.
Today, euthanasia is illegal all around US, except in the state of Oregon which legalized Assisted Suicide in 1998 and Washington that legalized it in 2008. It is also illegal in UK under the Suicide Act of 1961, and anyone performing or found involved in assisting someone to take his own life would be punished for a maximum of life imprisonment. However, the practice has been legalized with some variable modifications in law by Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxemburg with the assistance of any health care professional. It has been still a contentious issue in the field of medical ethics, and has been argued by different scholars in their own ways.
Types and Classifications
Since euthanasia is an on-going controversy in philosophy and bio-ethics; it has been categorized differently in varying conditions. Common types and classifications of euthanasia include active euthanasia, passive euthanasia, voluntary euthanasia, involuntary euthanasia and un-voluntary euthanasia. All these types relate with the consent of patient undergoing euthanasia and with the manner through which euthanasia is practiced or performed over the patient. These are more discussed in detail below:
- Active Euthanasia
If a person or patient is propelled towards death by any act of another person, either a family member, a health care professional or any other one, it is termed as active euthanasia. This involves the most common treatment with muscle relaxants or with anesthetics that cause the person to travel into comma, and finally death occurs due to cardiac arrest. Several debates have been made regarding the moral status of active euthanasia; as it involves deliberate actions from a doctor or anyone else to kill the patient. It also happens that patients with life support are removed from it and their death occurs. This also falls in the category of active euthanasia. Hence all those intentional actions that allow the death of the patient to occur are categorized as active euthanasia.
- Passive Euthanasia
Passive Euthanasia is described as the withholding of any kind of medical treatment which is necessary for the survival of patient and without which; the death is likely to occur. This can be done by health care professionals, by any family member or by the patient himself. For example, anyone suffering with tumor(s) has to take a course of radiations as prescribe by the physician. However, if the person refuse to take radiations, it is more likely that the tumor will grow and will ultimately cause painful death. Hence in passive euthanasia, a person is allowed to die slowly and is not provided with a pleasant death. Because of this, it is argued that active euthanasia is morally better than the passive; since the death occurs suddenly and the patient undergo lesser pain as compared with passive euthanasia. However, it is also argued that since both are the forms of killing someone, therefore both are immoral and must not be performed at all.
- Voluntary Euthanasia
It is the most commonly discussed and allowed type of euthanasia. A person who wants to get rid of the painful ailment which cannot be cured also, he demands death with his full content. Thus health care professionals, who agree that there are no chances of survival, carry out such actions which ultimately lead the person to die. This is what commonly known as “assisted suicide”, as the person wants to kill himself and demand any assistance in this regard. This can be done by both active and passive ways, according to the will of patients.
- Involuntary Euthanasia
This is the most immoral form of euthanasia, and should rather be termed as a murder or intentional killing. In such cases, a patient is propelled towards death without his consent. Again, this can be done by both active and passive ways. Involuntary euthanasia has been highly disregarded and even the countries who have legalized euthanasia do not allow practicing any such action that is against the consent of patient or his family members. If any health care professional try to do so or conduct any such act, he is convicted by the law.
- Non-voluntary Euthanasia
If there are such circumstances in which the patient himself is unable to show the consent about his death, then any other person, usually from the family members take decision on his behalf, to end both his life and miseries. Such conditions usually occur when a person is in comma, or in long-term unconsciousness due to damage in the cortex areas of the brain. If according to doctors, the patient has no chances of survival, or has poor chances of remaining normal, then non-voluntary euthanasia is performed. However, as it is also against the will of the patient himself, it is condemned by the society and is regarded as unethical.
Now a days, there have been introduced a doctrine of double effect; by which a person is giving such pain killers which lessen the pain, along with fasten the speed of patient towards death. But again the question arises that whether it is performed with the consent of patient or not? If the patient is ready to die, then it will be an assisted suicide, which is legal in some countries. Otherwise, the doctor will be prosecuted.
It can undoubtedly be concluded that when a person is at the brink of death, certainly he wants relief from the pain. Euthanasia must be allowed in those cases in which there are no chances of the survival of the patient and his condition is miserable enough that he cannot live the rest of the days normally. No doubt euthanasia is a slippery slope; and there are chances that the practice would become widened in order to get rid of unwanted persons. Therefore, no one should be allowed to mis-handle the legalization and to kill someone without his consent. This confusion usually occurs while defining between higher brain death and whole-brain death; but the simplest argument is that a person does not die with higher brain death and euthanasia should not be performed non-voluntarily. It is the family who decide what to do in such cases, either they want to take time and let the person on life-support, or they want to end the suffering of the unconscious person whose chances of survival are rare. Euthanasia is a controversial subject as far as morals and ethics are concerned. Therefore, one must not indulge himself in any such act in order to avoid any conviction by the legal authorities.
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