Like many other words in our English language euthanasia is Greek rooted eu, it means good and then thanasia means death, combined they mean “good death”. Take a moment and consider you have an illness and the doctors have just informed you it is terminal and you have only four weeks to live. They then tell you that during those four weeks you are going to be in continual excruciating pain and unbearable agony, and that no matter what pain medication they gave you there was nothing that would give you even a moment of relief. What would you do? If you decided to take action would it be in the form of an injection, a handful of pills, or maybe jump of a building? Euthanasia would mean either choosing to inject your-self with something or swallow a pill, obviously hoping to have a “good death” jumping of a high building would not be the best choice.
Nowadays when we think of euthanasia we instantly envision Dr. Jack Kevorkian. If this name is not sounding familiar then you may be one of the lucky few that have been able to escape reality and has been submerged in a fantasy land for the past several years. Dr. Kevorkian is thought to be an angel from god, put here on earth for one purpose, to serve mankind by many people. Yet others think he is the most evil villain, or the devil’s advocate. Me personally I could only hope that if I am to be diagnosed terminally ill, there is someone out there that will help me end my suffering.
Derek Humphry the founder of Hemlock society wrote a book called Dying with Dignity, and within this book he was quoted: “A caring society… offers euthanasia to a hopeless sick person as an act of love.” However he also states that he is strongly against suicide for those that are severely depressed, hoping to escape their personal hell by using euthanasia, while there are those out there needing or wanting euthanasia for those suffering from a terminal illness or are very severely handicap. (Humphry 17)
There are many issues Dr. Kevorkian has faced medical ethics being a huge one. I was confused when I first started researching; I thought physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death were one and the same. I was wrong, so to clarify the differences I decided to give a brief description. Physician-assisted suicide is where the doctor helps his patient, yet still makes his patient be the one who actually performs that physical act itself. Physician-assisted death or euthanasia is having the doctor do the physical act ultimately ending his/her patient’s life. Is it ethical for any doctor to end a patient’s life, to give them the relief from their pain and suffering just because they request it? Personally I think so. Was it ethical for Dr. Kevorkian to air himself on 60 Minutes on Sept 17, 1998 while he was helping Thomas Youk kill himself by doing a lethal injection (Thurtell, 1998)? No. I feel that by airing this on T.V. he violated his patient’s dignity during their last few hours of life, all for a little exposure for himself. Many people believe that by airing something like that on TV he endangered the profession because it could be interpreted as an abuse of power. After all here was a physician who had sworn to protect and save lives assisting someone kill themselves, all the while using his patient as a prop for his own political gain. By not complying with state of Michigan in 1997 when they ordered Dr. Kevorkian to stop practicing medicine he essentially compromised the profession. Doctors are held under a profession membership that has different ethical codes that need to be enforced. Despite having the education needed to practice medicine, he had a responsibility to stop once he was given the order from the State of Michigan, and because he did not do that the AMA (American Medical Association) has since adopted the belief that, “Active cooperation in suicide is incompatible with a professional obligation to heal.” (Garrett el al., 2001)
For Dr. Kevorkian killing or assisting in suicide is not something that he considers to be an indifferent act, he has said, “My intent was only to relieve their suffering, an act that inevitably killed the person.” Kevorkian strongly felt he was completely justified in his acts, due to the fact the majority of his patients suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease and would be incapable of caring or even feeding themselves (Murphy, 1999). Dr. Kevorkian goes on to explain in his book, Prescription: Medicine, the Goodness of Planned Death, that it is in fact ethical for the physician to help their patients by assisting them commit suicide because it is not the physician themselves pulling the trigger it is the patients. Therefore, the patient is the responsible party and they themselves take all the responsibility and consequences that were to follow.
Dying is not easy, and for the terminally ill who cannot move or even swallow pills it often times becomes even more difficult which is why Dr. Kevorkian invented a device called Mercitron. This devise injects solution to assist those that are terminally ill in their suicide. With that being said he also designed it so the terminal person must be the ones that pull the plug themselves. The process is as follows: The devise is placed next to the patient’s bed. Dr. Kevorkian would then raise the patients arm vertically and insert the needle, knowing the solution would not travel upward because of gravity. Once the patient was ready they would lower their arm below the device and allow the deadly mixture of chemicals to invade the body. Kevorkian effectively came along and extended a helping hand for these people trapped in a dying body and basically assisted them in suicide while thinking of it only as a rescue.
As we all have the right to eat and breath, we all have the right to live and die. There is always an opposite of everything like black to white, death to life. Within these two choices there are some people, like those who are terminally ill who would prefer death over life. I know from watching my cousin who is dying of cancer that life is nothing but black hole, a bottomless pit of pain so to speak. For him and many others death is a way to find peace possibly the only way to find sanctuary.
Let us take a moment and discuss what an important role religion plays in our life and how our life should end. Many believe that life is a gift from God and should be valued as such protecting it at all costs enduring to the end. There are those out there that believe everything we go through is a test given to us only by God, and that God himself is the only one that should determine when the end of our life should be, ending it by assisted suicide is just plain selfishness. I cannot think of any religion out there that has teachings saying it is ok to commit suicide as long as your terminal. I would imagine that any pastor, bishop, father would feel that assisted suicide would wall into that category as well because you have to give the doctors your consent to help you end your life. The hypocrisy is that nowhere in the Bible does it say suicide is a sin. In fact people that commit suicide are treated with compassion instead of contempt. Buddhists believe the pain you experience in this life was manifested and brought on due to the actions in your previous life, often referred to as karma.
Religion and ethics are not the only important issues within Dr. Kevorkian’s case, legal and financial aspects are just as important. Dr. Kevorkian stated that organized medicine and pharmaceutical companies are only against euthanasia because if they supported it they would lose and awful lot of money. Let us consider Alzheimer’s disease as an example. Alzheimer’s is known to be a disease that is terminal because it basically causes you to become a vegetable. We know there are roughly four million Alzheimer’s cases every single year in the United States. If just ten of these people decided they just wanted to end their life while they still remembered everything that would be 400,000 people not living in a nursing home. Let’s do the math; at a cost of roughly $30,000 a year to live at a nursing home times by 400,000 people, that would be millions and millions of dollars lost to those pharmaceutical companies by just one single disease. When put in a perspective like that I can see why Kevorkian may have thought money was a big factor. As for the legal side of things, it was because of Dr. Kevorkian that a law was put into place on Sept 1, 1998 in the state of Michigan making assisted-suicide a felony with a maximum 5 year prison sentence or $10,000 fine. Before this time Dr. Kevorkian had been charged and acquitted for several cases of assisted-suicide. It was on March 27, 1999 that Dr. Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder for assisting in the death of Thomas Youk. (Free Press, 1999)
With life there is death. Some people are lucky and live full happy healthy lives, while others have death knocking on their doors almost as soon as they are born. The hard sad truth is that death can happen at any given moment in someone’s life. A baby being aborted before birth, a child being killed in a vehicle accident coming home from school, all the way up to the ripe old age of 100 or longer. Death is natural and if we are constantly developing machines that prolong life, then why are we so against the machines that are can take life too? Do we as a society have the right to make someone who is terminally ill continue to suffer just because we feel physician assisted suicide is in some form homicide? Like any controversial argument there is always going to be two sides, one for it and one against it. I personally feel that the patient has all the rights to decide what is best for them.