During a visit to see your mother, she suddenly falls to the ground with no warning. 911 is called, and she is rushed to the hospital with the outcome looking very bleak. After tests are performed, it is discovered that your mother has a tumor the size of a golf ball in her brain which has progressed so that removing it would be no help. Chemotherapy will add approximately a year to her life, but the treatment is so expensive, and the side effects are so bad, that your mother is now questioning whether she wants to continue on with her life. Does she have the right to die? Or is that morally wrong? Despite the emotional pull of stories like this, I believe evidence leads to the conclusion that we should not legalize euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. Instead, our society should embrace a life-giving health care system that includes compassionate care for the dying, and educating patients about the right to refuse troublesome medical care.
Before delving into euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, it is first necessary to define these terms. There are two variations of euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is the removal of a patient from life sustaining machinery at their request and with full, informed consent. Active euthanasia is intentionally administering medications to cause a patient’s death at their request and with full, informed consent. Physician assisted suicide is a physician providing a prescription to a patient with the understanding that the patient intends to use the medication to commit suicide (Manning 3). However, whether a physician provides a lethal prescription or personally administers the lethal drug, the intent is the same-- the premature death of a patient.
Euthanasia did not always have the negative connotation that it does in America today. The ancient Greeks and Romans called it “voluntary death over endless agony” (Manning 6). In Athens, the magistrates of the city kept a constant supply of poison for anyone who wished to die. The Stoics recommended euthanasia when the person’s life was no longer in accordance with their individual needs. However, all ancient philosophers did not agree with the practice of euthanasia. The Pythagoreans opposed it because they believed the gods valued each life, and euthanasia was disrespectful. Plato also opposed suicide. Though he did not support the idea that the gods had the right to take life, he did believe that that life could only be ended in cases of imminent death (Manning 7). What started out as a “calm” debate quickly turned to hysteria when Christianity was developed. The religion took the Roman practices and turned them into martyrdom and since then, the belief has stuck with humanity (Uhlmann 68). So where does that leave us today?
There are different legal statuses for physician assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia around the world today. In England, due to the Suicide Act of 1961, neither suicide nor attempted suicide is a criminal matter. However, it is illegal to assist in or devise a plan towards the suicide of another individual. Similar to the English model, no state in the United States punishes someone who has committed or attempted suicide, nevertheless 32 states and 2 territories have made it illegal to assist, cause, or promote suicide (Celocruz 377). The world, as a whole, has not accepted euthanasia as a universal good, however, some place have legalized it, such as Oregon and Washington.
The Hippocratic Oath is a main component of the argument of legalization of euthanasia for its opponents. The oath was believed to be written by Hippocrates in the 4th century (Uhlmann 258). It requires a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold professional ethical standards. It also strongly binds the student to his teacher, and to the greater community of physicians, with responsibilities similar to that of a family member. The oath explicitly states…