Euthanasia - the Right to Die
Although there are laws in the United States that ban euthanasia, from a logical viewpoint, this type of PAS (physician-assisted suicide) should be legal, due to the fact that it is morally and ethically allowable for a doctor to provide the assistance to a terminally-ill patient to end his/her own life. In essence, this is the right to die, meaning that the patient has the right to determine when and how his/her life should be terminated when that patient is dying from an incurable or debilitating illness. Unfortunately, some people view euthanasia as the abortion debate of the 21st century, a stance that is unreasonable and illogical simply because the typical dying patient, unlike an unborn fetus, has the cognitive ability to understand his/her medical situation and can use this understanding to determine how or when he/she wishes to die.
Types of Euthanasia:
Basically, there are six types of euthanasia which is usually defined as "the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit" ("Euthanasia.com -- Definitions," 2005, Internet). First, there is voluntary, or when a patient requests that a physician assist them in dying; non-voluntary, or when a patient is put to death without giving their formal consent or request; involuntary, or when the patient has made a request not to be put to death but ends up euthanized; assisted suicide, such as when a physician helps a patient to die; euthanasia by action, or the intentional use of specific action, such as lethal injection, to bring about the death of a patient, and lastly, euthanasia by omission, or intentionally causing a patient's death by withholding care, food or water ("Euthanasia.com -- Definitions," 2005, Internet).
When a doctor becomes involved in the premature death of a patient, this is known as physician-assisted suicide which provides the patient with the dignity to die as painlessly as possible and with a sense of personal contentment. In most cases, the patient that requests PAS is not suffering from any mental condition which means that he/she is of sound mind. This greatly aids the attending physician, for it makes it clear that the patient should be given the right to die with dignity when that patient is afflicted with an incurable disease, such as certain types of cancer, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's diseases.
In support of this, Dan W. Brock points out that euthanasia "is morally justified when voluntarily chosen by a terminally-ill patient whose life has become unendurable" and when "motivated by respect for the wishes of the patient, provides a dignified and humane death" (2002, 11).
In the U.S., euthanasia, with the exception of euthanasia by omission as in the Terry Shiavo case, is illegal, and as of January of 2003, 35 states have passed laws that ban euthanasia and PAS, yet in Oregon, PAS is legal under its controversial Death With Dignity Act which allows terminally-ill persons to legally obtain lethal drugs from their doctor in order to take their own lives.
One of the most recognizable physicians in the PAS controversy is Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a former pathologist from the state of Michigan who assisted in more than 130 suicides. In the case of Janet Atkins in 1990, Kevorkian allowed Ms. Atkins to inject herself with a lethal dose of poison by pushing a button on a "suicide machine" built and designed by Kevorkian.
In 1991, Kevorkian assisted Sherry Miller and Margaret Wantz via the use of another "suicide machine" which delivered a lethal dose of carbon monoxide. The use of lethal medications seems to be the prevalent method for physician-assisted suicide, due to their availability and the certainty that an injection of such drugs will bring about death, usually painlessly and without any discomfort.
Yet most recently, it has been reported that some people have resorted to the use of a plastic bag in order to commit self-induced suicide which would be outside the limits of PAS. As mentioned by Sotiris Athanaselis, this type of suicide is achieved through "the combination of a plastic bag and an organic solvent" ("Asphyxial Death by Ether," 2002, Internet), namely, diethyl ether which renders the person unconscious within several minutes and causes either a brain hemorrhage or cardiac failure. However, this form of suicide has nothing to do with PAS, for most physicians would not utilize such a practice in order to bring about the premature death of a patient.
Death and Dying:
The topic of death is one of the most controversial and least understood subjects in the arena of euthanasia. According to Robert Young, if a person is "suffering from a terminal illness, is unlikely to benefit from the discovery of a cure, is suffering from intolerable pain... has an enduring, voluntary and competent wish to die (and) is unable without assistance to commit suicide," then that person should be legally allowed to die or be assisted to die at the hands of a competent physician ("Voluntary Euthanasia," 2002, Internet).
In most cases, the patient should have the legal right to choose when and how to die if he/she is suffering from a terminal illness. For example, euthanasia or PAS should be allowed for a person who is stricken with a progressive and debilitating neural condition, such as Parkinson's. Although the person might live for a good length of time in such a state, it should be legal for this person to determine his/her own death. Similarly, a person with a disease like ALS or Alzheimer's should be allowed to end their own suffering instead of slowly declining in health.
Either way, the person in question is going to die from the disease and it seems appropriate that each person should have the right to die as they see fit. Thus, the patient should be the sole determiner in cases such as these, meaning that the patient has the right to end their suffering even if it is contrary to the moral or religious viewpoints of family members, doctors or other caregivers.
However, the suggestion is not being made that medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses and specialists, move from voluntary to involuntary euthanasia. Yet in all respects, every terminally-ill person should be afforded a dignified release from their pain and suffering through the assistance of a physician or via their power, such as in the case of Janet Atkins who took her own life by pressing a button on a "suicide machine" constructed by Dr. Kevorkian.
Dying Should Be Seen as a Time of Growth:
Author Pythia Peay makes some very valid points when she addresses the suggestion that the "terminally-ill would benefit from the recognition that dying can be a time of growth," for it creates opportunities "to reconcile with family members and loved ones, (to) discover the meaning of one's life and (to) develop a deeper spirituality." While this statement is rather subjective in nature, Peay adds that in our modern society, the crisis surrounding death stems "from a lack of awareness of the dying process as a stage of growth," meaning that death, whether from natural causes or from euthanasia, is only another step in life which should be viewed objectively. However, Peay warns us that the "vision of a good death" has been "eclipsed by a stormy debate concerning an individual's right to die by euthanasia" which some people have called "the abortion debate of the twenty-first century" ("Dying Should be Seen," 2005, Internet).
These statements by Peay only reinforce the fact that under the right circumstances, euthanasia seems to be an appropriate method for the premature elimination of pain and suffering for those who are terminally-ill. An individual who maintains his/her mental awareness while ill should be given the choice of euthanasia regardless of how anyone else…