The thin line between life and death has become an ethical issue many health care providers and the government have long tried to ignore. The understanding that life begins at birth, and ends when the heartbeat and breathing have ceased has long been deemed factual. Medical technologies have changed this with respirators, artificial defibrillators, and transplants (Macionis, 2009). “Thus medical and legal experts in the United States define death as an irreversible state involving no response to stimulation, no movement or breathing, no reflexes, and no indication of brain activity” (Macionis, 2009, p. 436).
The process of deciding when a terminally ill patient should die lies within the patient, family members, and the medical staff. Patients who are terminally ill have the right to refuse treatment and nourishment at the time of the illness, or for the future through a living will. The right to not be resuscitated or use any extraordinary measures to prolong life also lies within their rights.
The dilemma being faced by patients, medical personnel, and the government is whether or not someone has the “right to die.” A patient has the right to refuse treatment to prolong their life, but do they have the right to choose to end their life at their discretion is the question (Macionis, 2009). Euthanasia, also called “mercy killing,” dated back to 1869, is the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy (Merriam-Webster, 2010).
Euthanasia is an ethical dilemma because it is both an act of kindness and an act of harm. The desire to have euthanasia legalized varies from doctor to doctor, while some want to help end their patients inevitable misery, others state they became a doctor to prolong life not to end it (Stolberg, 1998). There are many forms of euthanasia, including oral medication overdose, lethal injection, and palliative sedation. Although Oregon have legally assisted suicides according to their state laws, in 1997, The U.S. Supreme Court decided under the constitution a patient does not have the right to die (Macionis, 2009).
Euthanasia relates to the sociological paradigm of conflict theory. The basic definition of conflict theory is groups competing for scarce resources. Marx said the key element to human history is class conflict. A small group controls the means of production and exploits those not in control. It is considered the framework for building theory that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and change. People in positions of authority try to enforce conformity, resulting in resentment and resistance. This leads to the constant struggle to determine who has the authority (Macionis, 2009). In Euthanasia, the government is in the position of authority; they are trying to enforce conformity among physicians. They want all physicians to abide by the law of assisted suicide being deemed illegal. The result is resentment by the patients with the terminal illness by being refused what they feel is their “right to die.” There is also resistance of some physicians to follow the laws that have been enforced due to their personal beliefs on the matter. Conflict theory shows the constant struggle between the government and patients, as well as physician and patients at who has the right to make that call. Patients have to fight a double battle; first, with the government to make it legal, and secondly, with the doctors by convincing them to follow through with the process. It ignores the shared belief among some patients, and possibly puts the fear in the government that with the legalization of assisted suicide that they are giving physicians and patients an overabundance of interdependence, and power in the concern of doctors being able to choose who lives and dies in these situations (Macionis, 2009). Dr. Jack Kevorkian – a k a “Doctor Death” for helping...