An Analysis of Euthanasia its Pros and Cons

Euthanasia, also known as physician-assisted suicide, is the method commonly used for animals that are in pain and need to be put out of their misery. Many pet owners may consider this the most humane way to handle an ill cat or dog. In contrast, when a person is terminally ill and is competent enough to wish for a swift painless death rather than die in suffering, forty-nine out of the fifty U.S. states deny that one last request.  Many terminally ill patients wish for a sooner death because not only are they in agonizing pain, but because of the emotional and financial burden on their loved ones. Oregon is the only U.S. state that allows terminally ill patients to request a lethal dose of medication, however, the patients must administer the lethal medication themselves. Mentally competent, terminally ill or severely disabled patients who have no hope for full recovery should have the choice to die with dignity, or live out their dying days if that is what they wish. Asking for physician-assisted suicide is an American right, and should be legalized countrywide.

    Oregon passed a Death with Dignity Act in 1994, though delayed by a lawsuit until 1997, which allows terminally ill Oregon residents to obtain from their physicians and use prescriptions for self-administered lethal medications (Oregon’s). Physician-assisted suicide is not legal in Oregon, per se. The patient must administer the lethal medication; the physician only prescribes it. In order to participate in Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, the patient must be a resident of Oregon who is at least eighteen years old, be capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself, and be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months (Oregon’s).  The Death with Dignity Act has been in effect since 1997, and has had only 129 relevant deaths within a five-year period (Levy). This shows that Oregon is not giving out lethal prescriptions to just anyone, and they have been successful in their journey to allowing terminally ill patients to choose another way out from their pain.

    Euthanasia is also legal in the Netherlands countrywide, and researchers have found that friends and family members of terminally ill cancer patients who died by euthanasia had an easier time coping with the death of their loved one. The researchers compared the experiences of 189 bereaved family members and close friends of terminally ill cancer patients who died by euthanasia to 316 of the same types of people who died from natural causes. The study showed that those in the first group were more prepared emotionally for the deaths of their loved ones.  Simply being able to say goodbye was a factor; so was the opportunity to talk openly about death beforehand (Philipkoski). This would make sense to any logical person; of course it is easier to be able to say one final goodbye rather than worry day-in and day-out if a phone call will be received saying a loved one passed-on alone in a hospital. Because many people fear death, it would be more peaceful for an ill person to have family members and close friends by his/her bedside while he/she falls into a deep sleep and pass on without fear or pain.

    Some social workers and psychologists argue that ill patients requesting physician-assisted suicide don’t really want to die; they are chronically depressed, and looking for attention and sympathy from those around them (Johansen). How ludicrous is that theory?  Most people will develop a form of depression when told that they have an incurable disease, so they aren’t chronically depressed, per se. If someone is told that his/her illness is not curable and he/she has only months to live, it is that person’s right to end his/her life at will. AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and cancer patients who are in the late stages of their illness are in constant pain and agony and it is their decision whether or not they want to continue dying a slow and painful death.

Other doctors have found that one in four patients with a terminal illness express a wish to die, and that all of them had clinically diagnosable depression (What’s). Of course they are depressed; they have a terminal illness that will eventually kill them. After having time to cope and deal with the reality of acquiring a terminal illness, it is only humane to allow that person to ask for a quick and painless death.

Understandably, doctors have taken an oath to do everything possible to revive a person, no matter what the situation is. Asking a doctor to assist in a suicide may sound horrific, but occasionally death is a patient’s only relief from the endurance of daily pain. For most terminally ill and severely disabled patients, every day that goes by consists of struggling, pain, and emotional distress. A doctor should be allowed to assist a patient requesting a painless death without worrying about legal repercussions.

Some anti-euthanasia citizens believe that ill patients who are in unbearable pain should receive up-to-date means of pain control. Doctor Pieter Admiral of the Netherlands observed that pain is never an adequate justification for euthanasia in light of current medical techniques that can manage pain in virtually all circumstances (What’s).  What exactly is he trying to say? This observation is saying that doctors should simply pump ill patients with drugs until they die. If this statement is true, then why did Doctor Ali Khalili, a pain-control specialist who was racked with bone cancer, drive from Chicago to Michigan to ask Doctor Jack Kevorkian to assist him in suicide (Lessenberry)? Here was a doctor who had access to all kinds of pain medications, and specialized in how to use them correctly; yet Doctor Khalili felt it was more humane to die before he got to the late and painful stages of his disease.

Doctor Jack Kevorkian has helped over 130 desperately ill patients to end their lives over an eight-year period (Townsend). The friends and families of Doctor Kevorkian’s patients stand behind Kevorkian, as they feel that what he had done for their loved ones was the only humane thing to do. Heidi Fernandez is one of those people. Her fiancé may have been only thirty years old when Kevorkian poisoned him with carbon monoxide, at the patient’s will, but he suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, frightened that he would die from choking on his own saliva (Lessenberry). The horrifying thing about Lou Gehrig’s disease is that the victim’s mind would remain clear and be fully aware of what was happening, but they would be in constant pain from muscle cramps (Lessenberry).  It was the right of Mr. Fernadez’s fiancé to end his life.

Although Doctor Kevorkian wanted only to end pain and suffering in sick individuals, a jury gave him a second-degree murder sentence. After being specifically told that euthanasia was illegal in Michigan, Kevorkian performed one last physician-assisted suicide to Thomas Youk, who was in the late stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Thomas Youk requested to his brother, Terry, to contact Kevorkian so that his agony would end. Youk had constant muscle cramps, was fed through a tube in his stomach, and was on twelve different medications. Kevorkian’s mission was to end the pain and suffering of the sick; he helped Youk by lethal injection. Jack Kevorkian wanted to make his position clear, which he did by airing the video of him participating in physician-assisted suicide with Thomas Youk on 60 Minutes. Kevorkian played with fire by doing this, and unfortunately, was badly burned with a prison sentence of ten years (Michigan).  Kevorkian never hid what he was doing, and that is what earned him the nickname of “Dr. Death."  Kevorkian did what many people think about doing but they fear legal consequences. Doctor Jack Kevorkian should be considered the most humane doctor in the United States and fight for legalizing euthanasia.

There are also situations where the ill patient is incompetent, and cannot vocalize his/her needs or wants. For example, this was the case of Terri Schiavo of St. Petersburg, Florida, who was twenty-six years old when she collapsed in her home and went into a coma in 1990, and she has been attached to feeding tubes since then. Her husband, who is also her legal guardian, requested in 1998 that the feeding tubes be removed, saying his wife would not want to be kept alive on life support (Legal).  Since then, Mr. Schiavo and Terri’s parents have fought back and forth with courts about the situation. Terri has woken up after being in a coma for thirteen years and is severely mentally retarded; she is also still attached to feeding tubes since she cannot physically swallow (Kugiya).  Terri will be in hospice care until she dies. Mr. Schiavo should have been able to disconnect the feeding tubes attached to his wife, and have been able to say his final goodbye to her.

Hospice care for ill patients is not free; it costs a lot of money. A patient receiving care in a hospital or nursing home costs around $200.00 each day; the average American patient will end up paying out forty percent of the costs out-of-pocket (Ohio).  There really is no reason for someone to sit back and wait to die, while their estate money is being drained for hospice care bills. Occasionally, when an individual is in so much pain, they cannot enjoy visits from loved ones, and those individuals who are left behind can often use the money more wisely. This also costs the rest of the American citizens money indirectly through higher taxes for welfare benefits, and higher health insurance premiums. This does not mean that doctors should choose who dies and at what times; just that the choice of euthanasia should be available to those who desire it.

Many people will argue that euthanasia will not be able to be properly regulated. This just isn’t true. Oregon is a great example; they have strict criteria that must be met for terminally ill patients, though their criteria could be more lenient to include severely disabled persons. People fear what they do not know, which is why the issue of euthanasia should be more explicit and people be educated on it. American citizens can have a "living will" that states what they wish physicians to do for them if they are incompetent, as well as naming someone to make life and death decisions for them. If euthanasia were legal, an addition into a "living will" could include at what point they wish to pass on in peace. For example, a person could request euthanasia beforehand in case of being in a coma for a certain length of time, or if they end up with severe brain damage. A patient, or a named guardian, can request to “pull the plug" so that he/she is not hooked up to life support, and most likely die, but it is illegal for terminally ill patients to request death if they are in excruciating pain.

So, does anyone really know what a person would do in a situation that dealt with a terminal disease or severe disability? When it comes down to it, a person of sound mind would not want to suffer in pain, and have their friends and family stand by and watch. It is also difficult on the loved ones of the terminally ill; unfortunately, it comes down to a lose-lose situation. Of course no one wants a loved one to die, but on the other hand, no one wants to see that same terminally ill loved one whither away while in agony the whole time. Often, most ill patients have a hard time dealing with the increasing pain from their body shutting down, and it begins to be more difficult to focus on other things when confined to a bed twenty-four hours a day. Other patients just cannot deal with the pain, and those are the ones who feel that death is the only release from the pain that they suffer from. Requesting euthanasia is a difficult decision for someone to make because not only is it an irreversible decision, but one may also feel guilty for leaving loved ones behind. It is such a difficult decision to allow someone to pass on, while friends and family grieve and morn; yet it would be peaceful knowing that the deceased passed on in a peaceful and humane way.

Legalizing euthanasia does not mean that all ill and disabled persons must be put to death. It gives a choice to someone who has had time to cope and accept his/her illness.  It is unethical and inhumane to force dying individuals to live out the rest of their days in constant pain and discomfort; as is allowing friends and family to watch their loved ones suffer each and every day.  America is known as the country of freedom and choice, so citizens of the country should be able to determine what is right for them. It is time for the United States to have compassion for dying and severely disabled Americans and allow them to die with dignity. The issue of keeping euthanasia illegal countrywide is to go against what the United States stands for, which is the freedom to choose.