James Rachels is one of the most controversial philosophers talked about in today's society. One of his most talked about topics is whether a person has a right to die or not. Not much is known about Rachels expect for the many articles and books he has written. In the controversy of letting a person die or killing him, he does not try to explain which method is good and which method is bad. He however tries to explain why they both are bad to a certain degree. Rachels does not take one side, but tries to convince why one is better than the other. In his opinion, letting a person starve to death or just putting him out of his misery by killing him is an ongoing struggle. If you let a person starve to death, it might be putting that person through a lot of pain but he'll still be alive (who knows, maybe a miracle cure will be found.) If you killed him on the spot with a lethal injection, it would be a more peaceful death but you would be shortening that person's life. Putting a person to death in a peaceful manner is called euthanasia. Euthanasia is an ancient word that means "easy death." There is also the issue of morality. Would killing someone by their own will or suicide be a moral act? What about a patient that is suffering from cancer? Is it moral to let that person suffer? These are some of the many questions people have been trying to answer for year without success.
Euthanasia is a very uncomfortable subject to talk about for most people because who wants to think about having to kill oneself or a person that is dear to his or her life. Even though nobody wants to go through the hardship of deciding whether a person should live or die, it happens everyday. There are two forms of euthanasia. There is an active euthanasia and a passive euthanasia (Jussim 7-13). This so-called distinction between active and passive was challenged by Rachels in a paper first published in 1975 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In that paper, Rachels challenges both the use and moral significance of that distinction. He argues that active euthanasia is in many cases is more humane than passive euthanasia. Rachels urges doctors to reconsider their views on active euthanasia. He writes: "To begin with a familiar type of situation, a patient who is dying of incurable cancer of the throat is in terrible pain, which can no longer be satisfactorily alleviated. He is certain to die within a few days even if present treatment is continued, but he does not want to go on living for those days since the pain is unbearable. So he asks the doctor for an end to it, and his family joins in this request (Rachels 106-108)." "Suppose the doctor agrees to withhold treatment. The justification for his doing so is that the patient is in terrible agony, and since he is going to die anyway, it would be wrong to prolong his suffering needlessly, but now notice this if one simply withholds treatment, it may take the patient longer to die, and so he may suffer more than he would if more direct action were taken and a lethal injection given. This fact provides strong reason for thinking that, once the initial decision not to prolong his agony has been made, active euthanasia is actually preferable to passive euthanasia, rather than the reverse (Rachels 106-108)." Let's take for example one of my favorites, Baby Jane Doe. She is a baby that was heavily deformed mentally and physically. The doctors said that she doesn't have a chance to live if she doesn't go into surgery. However, Baby Jane Doe has a slight chance of living if the surgery is done, but she would most likely live to be 18 years old or less. She would still be mentally retarded and would need constant attention from her parents. So if Baby Jane goes into surgery, it would be the same as passive euthanasia. The parents of Baby Jane decided that it would be better for them and her if she died peacefully rather than suffering through what was sure to be her death in later years. However, the government decided that it was wrong for Baby Jane to die so they were forced to have the surgery done to their child (Rachels 60-62). So is killing someone worse than letting them die passively? Rachels asks us to consider two cases. Let's take for example a guy named Mike will gain a large inheritance if anything should happen to his young cousin. One evening while the youngster is taking a bath, Mike sneaks into the bathroom and drowns the child, and then arranges things so it will look like an accident. In the second case, a guy named John will gain a large inheritance and plans to drown his cousin, but as he enters the bathroom John sees the child slip and hit his head and fall face down in the water. John watches and does nothing. Now, Mike killed the child while John let the child die. Now did either man behave better, from a moral point of view? "If the difference between killing and letting die were in itself a morally important matter, one should say that John's behavior was less reprehensible than Mike's. But does one really want to say that (Rachels 131)?" So in the case of Baby Jane Doe, no one is to say who's right. In this circumstances, the government was right because Baby Jane Doe is doing a whole lot better than many doctors speculated. Even though the government might have been right about Baby Jane Doe's diagnosis, there are many times when their decisions are completely wrong. I believe that there are some circumstances when euthanasia is the morally correct action. I also understand that there are real concerns about legalizing euthanasia because of fear of misuse or overuse, and the fear of the loss of respect for the value of life. We need to proceed with caution in my opinion. We need full and open discussion, improvements in research, and above all we need to think about the topic together. Our best approach at this time may be to modify homicide laws to include motivational factors as a legitimate defense. Just as homicide is acceptable in cases of self-defense, it could be considered acceptable if the motive is mercy. Obviously, strict parameters would have to be established that would include patients' request and approval, or in the case of incompetent patients such as a person in a vegetable state, advance directives in the form of a living will or family and court approval. Now there lies the question about the law and how euthanasia can be a legal process.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the government would make as much sense as 'men' do? All we need is beer, sleep, nachos, and sex. Then we would have no complications whatsoever. However, the law doesn't work that way. Our governing law works much like a 'women' does. It's so controlling even though it says we have freedom, it spends our hard earned money like crazy, and it's always changing the rules to its liking. For those who believe that euthanasia is immoral may nevertheless hold that it should not be illegal (Rachels 168). They may reason that if a person wants to die, it is strictly up to them no matter how foolish or immoral their desire may be. However, the American law makes no distinction between euthanasia and murder (Rachels 182). As everybody knows, there are many loop holes in the government, and if you look hard enough you'll be able to find them. One of the ways that you can get away with euthanasia is by starving yourself to death. Some people might feel that starving themselves to death is an alternative and an ideal euthanasia. Many old people have died this way (Humphry 63). However this is not as easy as it seems because there are many factors you have to consider. In some cases of self-starvation, the dehydration process can be painful and could take up to 40 days. They may also slip in and out of coma. Because of this, the process of self-starvation euthanasia could take a considerable amount of time and should be carefully considered before preceding (Humphry 63-65). A person may ask why this form of euthanasia is legal. It is because there is always a loop hole somewhere in the government's law system. The law doesn't permit force feeding so you can't force someone to eat. Also the law doesn't permit any medical treatment without the patient's consent even if their condition threatens their life (Humphry 65).
Death is one of the wonders of Life. I'm sure that everyone sometime or another has thought about what it was like to be in the state of complete unconsciousness or be dead to put it in simpler terms. In an ironic sense, many people may wonder what it would 'feel' like to be dead. Many doctors and scientists that have spent many years researching this topic and have come to the conclusion that death occurs when a person's heart stops beating, respiration ceases, and brain activity comes to a halt (Kung and Jens 8-9). It took a genius to figure that one out. Euthanasia can not be completely argued on until someone knows exactly what happens when someone passes on to the other side. David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher of the 18th century, remarked that the aim of philosophy should be to replace superstition and false religion with reason and understanding (Rachels 1). So it is safe to say that euthanasia is neither right or wrong.
Humphry, Derek. Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. Oregon: The Hemlock Society, 1991.
Jussim, Daniel. Euthanasia: The "Right to Die" Issue. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers Inc., 1993.
Kung, Hans, and Walter Jens. Dying with Dignity: A Plea for Personal Responsibility. New York: Continuum, 1995.
Landau, Elaine. The Right to Die. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.
Rachels, James. The End of Life: Euthanasia and Morality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.