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Euthanasia and the Moral Right to Die

“The third night that I roomed with Jack in our tiny double room, in the solid-tumor ward of the cancer clinic of the National Institute of Health in Maryland, a terrible thought occurred to me. Jack had a melanoma in his belly, a malignant solid tumor that the doctors guessed was the size of a softball. The doctors planned to remove the tumor, but they knew Jack would soon die. The cancer had now spread out to control. Jack, about 28, was in constant pain, and his doctor had prescribed an intravenous shot, a pain killer, and this would control the pain for perhaps two hours or a bit more.

Then he would begin to moan, or whimper, very low, as though he didn’t want to wake me. Then he would begin to howl, like a dog. When this happened, he would ring for a nurse, and ask for the pain-killer. The third night of this routine, a terrible thought occurred to me. If Jack were a dog, I thought, what would be done to him? The answer was obvious: the pound, and the chloroform. No human being with a spark of pity could let a living thing suffer so, to no good end”( Rachels 13).

The experience of Stewart Alsop, a respected journalist, with his terminally ill friend Jack, forces us to ask why a dying dog is entitled to more humane treatment than a human in the same condition. Finding a humane and sensible approach to treating the terminally ill has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. One approach to this problem is euthanasia, which by definition mean “a painless death, a mercy killing”(Webster’s 190). In other words, euthanasia is causing the death of someone who is already dying and in such pain that their continued existence will only produce continued unbearable suffering.

There are two forms of euthanasia, passive and active. Passive euthanasia is an accepted medical practice where the terminally ill patient is allowed to die. Passive euthanasia takes place when the patient refuses treatment. “The patient may refuse food, medical treatment or may demand to be taken off respirators. Unfortunately, this treatment can result in a lingering, drawn out, and times agonizing death”(Westley 157 ). Active euthanasia is the taking of one’s own life, or dying for example, by lethal injection. Another form of euthanasia is passive euthanasia.

Unlike active euthanasia, Regardless of the possible suffering, passive euthanasia enjoys the acceptance of the medical community. Sixty four percent of Americans believe active euthanasia should be legalized. However, active euthanasia, which quickly ends suffering, is not an accepted medical practice for terminally patients(Westley 131). The single most powerful argument in support of active euthanasia is the argument of mercy. The main idea of this argument is simple. Terminally ill patients sometimes suffer pain far beyond our comprehension.

This suffering can be so terrible that we cringe at the descriptions of such agony. Terminally ill patients are people who will never attain a personal existence, never experience a life of value, or never achieve a minimal level of independence. Active euthanasia is morally justified because it ends suffering”(Foley 54). If a person prefers and even begs for death as the only alternative to lingering on in this kind of torment, only to die anyway after a while, then surely it is not immoral to let them die sooner.

Certainly most organized religions in the United States are against active euthanasia. They view it as an attack on life which must be opposed. They believe it is morally wrong because no human being has the right to take life. This is based on the belief that God alone has dominion over life and death and taking a life usurps divine prerogative and violates a divine right. Surprisingly though, most religions support passive euthanasia, so passive euthanasia is morally acceptable.

For euthanasia, passive or active, the result is death. Consequently, the only difference between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia is the amount of time someone must suffer. A benevolent and merciful God would not prolong suffering. Of course active euthanasia does eliminate great suffering. And since the patient requests it, there is no question of violating the individuals’ human rights. If an action promotes the best interests of everyone concerned, and violates no one’s rights, then that action is morally acceptable.

In some cases, active euthanasia promotes the best interests of everyone and violates no one’s rights(Shavelson 84). For the patient, euthanasia, if chosen, would provide the individual with an easier, more dignified death without prolonged pain. The interests of the family may also be best served. Their enormous misery caused by helplessly watching their loved ones suffer could be alleviated. Considering this, how can active euthanasia be wrong? How can it be morally wrong to perform an act that is merciful, benefits everyone concerned, nd violates no one’s rights? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is on of the oldest and most common moral proverbs.

When people try to decide whether certain actions are morally correct, they must ask whether they would be willing for everyone to follow that rule in similar circumstances. The application of this proverb to the question of euthanasia is obvious. Everyone is going to die someday, although people do not know how or when, they will probably have little choice in the matter.

But suppose a person was given two choices: to die quietly and painlessly or hope to live and suffer? Would someone choose to continue to fight a losing battle while writhing in pain and prolonging their family’s misery? Or would they choose to die painlessly and end their life with dignity and stop their family’s suffering? The author would choose the quick and painless death. Terminally ill patients should have the right to choose active euthanasia as a morally acceptable choice. The morality of active euthanasia is supported by the Golden Rule.

Sometimes active euthanasia serves the interest of everyone concerned and is the best choice for the terminally ill person. It relieves the person of unbearable pain and provides a merciful and dignified end to their life. It also relieves the terrible emotional strain on family and friends of the loved one. No one is suggesting the value of life be taken lightly. However, the only case worse than a terminally ill patient requesting active euthanasia, is the doctor refusing it, thereby, sentencing the patient to a possibly protracted and painful existence for the remainder of their life.

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