Every year millions of people are diagnosed with terminal illnesses or injuries. Most suffer long and agonizingly painful deaths. While medication may ease the pain temporarily, the long term agony is unrelenting. In the United States the idea of euthanasia has long been a moral and political fire storm. Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as, ”the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” No one with any compassion wants the sick and dying to suffer. The key phrase is “the sick and dying”. The act of mercifully killing the sick and dying is exactly what euthanasia entails. There are many people who disagree with this idea. They feel that no one has the right to end a person’s life, not even the dying person. These people believe that life is sacred and only God can decide when it is time to go, and how. This is great in theory, but in reality the question should be asked, when does a person die? For instance, take the case of Terry Schiavo, a Florida woman whose case caused a true national debate about the topic of euthanasia and even more so, started the debate as to when a person is considered dead. In February of 1990, twenty-six year old Schiavo suffered a massive cardiac event which, due to lack of oxygen, caused her to suffer massive brain damage. After she spent two months in a coma, her diagnosis was changed to persistent vegetative state. After much rehabilitation, it was decided that Schiavo would not make any kind of recovery. Her eyes were open.
Yes, she could breathe with assistance. Those are the reasons her parents and many others thought she would recover. The problem was that Terry was not there. She was medically brain dead. Having come to terms with the situation, her husband made the decision to remove her feeding tube and with the aid of pain medications allow her to die. It took fifteen years and numerous legal battles as well as presidential interference to the contrary, but in March of 2005, Terry Schiavo died. Opponents say that there could eventually have been a cure for Schiavo’s illness. They still believe that her quality of life was better than what was medically determined. The problem is that they do not have the right to decide what a person’s individual quality of life is. Terry Schiavo’s parents were insistent on keeping Terry with them. They could not let her go. A large portion of the opposition to euthanasia is selfishness. People don’t want to let loved ones go. Take for instance a person making the decision not to be resuscitated if they are dying. In some states a patient’s advanced directive can be waived if the family wishes. This includes do not resuscitate statuses. Patients in hospice care are routinely taken to emergency facilities to receive life saving measures in blatant disregard of their wishes, not to mention the purpose of hospice care. Other forms of Euthanasia involve people who have terminal illnesses and as the illnesses progress, decide they want to die with dignity. It is a person’s right to determine when and where they die. Some don’t see it this way. They feel that people should suffer severe and agonizing pain, and the loss personal dignity because God said so. Of course, this is the most basic rendering of the argument, but that is the gist of it. There are also those of the opinion that the wish to die is motivated by a person’s false guilt of becoming a drain on family and friends when they are not able to take care of themselves. They feel that the mental health of the person can be treated with palliative care, which can work. A major problem with this ideology is that just as a person has the right to self determination and examination, he or she should also have the right to die. If a person has the right to live his or her own life as they see fit, then how can we not afford them the same in death? Yes we can and should as a responsible society attempt to deter mentally ill patients from suicide. That is a different issue entirely. When death is imminent, let them go. No one with an ounce of compassion wants to see a person suffer. We also do not always want to let our loved ones go. We must weigh a person’s wishes against our own fears and beliefs regarding death. We cannot ask the question, “What would I want to do?” or “How would I feel?” It is not you who is dying. It is someone else.