Bioethics of Euthanasia

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As biological organisms, humans design patterns of how to live by way of autonomous lifestyle choices, only after being born into a subjective realm of existence with social opportunities and limitations suggested by how one is nurtured and raised. A sense of a connection to objectivity is gained depending on how closely one associates themselves with an organized institution such as religion, or other form of moral code. The idea that knowledge learned from a moral superior at a young age can suggest, or sometimes in early adulthood, coerce decision-making is indicative of a set of parameters or expectations that one must achieve so to honor the objective family belief. Therefore, the family is also an institution which generates the same attachment to objectivity that encourages a certain set of goals. Ultimately though, it is one’s subjective experience that has it’s own social, physical, mental, and spiritual habits and attachments that cause the mind and body to perform and exist in a particular way. The overarching illegality of euthanasia across North America is supported by religious institutions which act as the sole moral platform for questioning the professional conduct of medical practitioners. The hegemonic belief that is fostered views euthanasia as a breach of non-maleficence, though doctors have and will likely continue to comply with life-ending aid in North America, regardless of recent deliberation regarding legislation. A legalization of euthanasia could ease tensions for physicians and patients dealing with chronic fatal health conditions, but would require specific criteria for legality. The debilitating suffering from a terminal illness should be the first criteria, as well as an autonomous request made by the sufficiently competent patient. Those who advocate for the legalization of euthanasia are part of a particular morality that sees beyond the mystical value of medical non-maleficence and opposes overarching institutional moralities that forbid life-ending decisions. Also of concern is the slippery slope argument, whereby any level of legal euthanasia would likely incite requests for more flexible criteria, publicly bringing into question the intangible value of human life.

A central notion of biomedical ethics that stands as a major contender against the legalization of euthanasia is non-maleficence. To generally adhere to the principles of non-maleficence, physicians should not provide ineffective treatments to patients as these offer risk with no possibility of benefit and thus have a chance of harming patients. In addition, physicians must not do anything that would purposely harm patients without the action being balanced by proportional benefit (Beauchamp, 155). This benefit is not necessarily beneficial to the terminally ill individual who has requested euthanasia. The benefit referred to in the medical field is generally an extension of life and a restoration of health, which is not a reality for the terminally ill, rather a benefit might be an end to incurable suffering.  Because many medications, procedures, and interventions cause harm in addition to benefit, the principle of non-maleficence provides little concrete guidance in the care of patients, and acts as a fairly weak argument against euthanasia.

A helpful distinction when debating the validity of physician assisted suicide is that of ‘killing’ and ‘allowing to die’. If a patient is too frail to undergo restorative treatment, it can be said that the withholding of that treatment is allowing the patient to die. On the other hand, ‘killing’ entails taking action that would hasten the onset of death. There is considerable overlap between these two concepts, to the point that a clear distinction is not readily discernible (Beauchamp, 172). The prima facie nature of allowing a patient to die, as expressed by Beauchamp is acceptable under certain conditions whereby a medical technology is considered futile, or ineffectual, or a...
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