Euthanasia: an Overview

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Euthanasia: An Overview

There has been much debate in recent American society over the legality and morality of a patients right-to-die. Current legal statue prohibits any form of euthanasia, however, there are many moral and ethical dilemmas concerning the controversy. For the purposes of this essay, I will define euthanasia as the implementation of a decision that a person's life will come to an end before it need stop. In other words, it is a life ending when it would otherwise be prolonged. There is an important distinction between voluntary euthanasia where the decision to terminate life coincides with the individuals wishes and involuntary euthanasia where the individual concerned does not know about the decision and has not approved it in advance. I will be dealing specifically with the concept of voluntary euthanasia, for it seems intuitive that involuntary euthanasia is not only illegal but also profoundly immoral. Opponents arguments against euthanasia which fail to substantiate their claims, many proponents arguments highlighted by the right to autonomy, and empirical examples of legalized euthanasia all prove the moral legitimacy of physician- assisted-suicide.

Opponents of euthanasia generally point to three main arguments which I will mention only for the purposes of refuting them. First, many cite the Hippocratic oath which reads, "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel" as a reason to oppose euthanasia. Clearly, the Hippocratic oath does condemn the practice, however, I do not find this as reason enough to reject the moral permissibility of euthanasia. If the premise of the oath is flawed (i.e., if it is morally permissible for a physician to assist in suicide), then a physician should not be prohibited from assisting in suicide simply because of an oath. Indeed, if it is proven (as will be done later in this essay) that euthanasia is a moral way to end needless suffering, then doctors should be obliged to fulfill their patients requests for early death. The second argument that opponents of euthanasia cite is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic of human life being the ultimate value of existence. This argument is vague at best. At the most well-explained level, it says that human life is intrinsically valuable and should be preserved in every instance (because human bodily life is the life of a person) thus euthanasia is wrong because it is killing before life would naturally end. This argument is proven unsound in two ways. First, I believe that human life is distinct from personhood. Many patients requesting euthanasia have ceased to be persons because they are terminally ill and incapable of enjoying the gift of existence. Thus many of these individuals ( and certainly those in a vegetative state with a living will that requests euthanasia) are living lives that are not intrinsically valuable. Second, I disagree with the notion that life is intrinsically valuable and should be preserved in every instance. I believe that life is valuable only inasmuch as it is the basis for rational decision- making. (This argument will be elaborated upon later in the essay). Therefore, we respect the value of life by respecting a persons autonomy and allowing them to willingly end their life. The final argument given by opponents of euthanasia is the notion of a slippery slope in which legalized voluntary euthanasia will snowball and begin to result in widespread involuntary euthanasia. The basis for this reasoning is that under a system of voluntary euthanasia, doctors must make the final determination of whether a person can be euthanized or not therefore allowing them to decide if a patients life is "worth" living. Many feel that if doctors can do this to competent people, it could snowball to incompetent patients and doctors may make decisions to euthanize without the will of patients. However, I argue that the moral permissibility of...
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