Legalizing Euthanasia: A Practical Approach
Theressa Thacker RN
We are all in the process of dying from the day we are born. The prevalence of catastrophic diseases that once killed swiftly such as pneumonia, cholera, and massive heart attacks, have been replaced by chronic and, often, degenerative diseases such as advanced cancers, diabetes, lung disease, and Alzheimer’s, leading to a slow death for most (Gardner, 2012). This places a great financial burden on the Medicare system as well as patient’s families. Atul Gawande (2010) reports that twenty five percent of all Medicare spending is for the five percent of patients who are in their final year ...view middle of the document...
Thus, the Patient Self Determination Act (PSDA) was enacted by the Federal government in 1990. The purpose of the PSDA was to promote patient autonomy and make known patient’s wishes regarding their end-of-life care through the use of advance directives. However, the PSDA has fallen short of the mark as many advance directives are not honored. This dilemma is further complicated by the fact that Americans are living longer and the rising cost of health-care is putting a severe strain on the Medicare budget. Giving patients the option of voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide will promote patient autonomy by giving patients more options regarding their end-of-life care, and alleviate some of the burden placed on the Medicare budget by reducing unwanted, life- prolonging medical treatments.
Pertaining to a patient, the word euthanasia elicits images of putting elderly patients to death or withholding necessary medical treatments for those patients who cannot pay. However, when speaking about euthanizing our pets, it is thought of as a humane, even merciful act. In the Greek language, euthanasia actually means “good death” (Orfali, 2010). In order to better articulate the argument that euthanasia should be legal, it is important to clearly define euthanasia and its different sub-types.
Active Euthanasia: To actively or purposely cause the death of a patient.
Voluntary Active Euthanasia: To assist or aide in the death of a patient at the patient’s request.
Involuntary Active Euthanasia: To purposefully cause the death of a patient without the patients consent.
Passive Euthanasia: To cause the death of a patient by withholding care that would save or prolong the patient’s life.
Voluntary Passive Euthanasia: To withhold medical treatment or care at the patient’s request with the knowledge that the failure to give care will cause the patient’s death.
Involuntary Passive Euthanasia: To withhold medical treatment or care from a patient without the patient’s consent, knowing that the failure to give care will cause the patient’s death.
The forms of euthanasia that this essay will address are the voluntary forms. The argument that euthanasia should be legal to promote patient autonomy is only valid if the patient has chosen euthanasia as an option to escape a painful or torturous death. To actively or passively cause the death of a patient without the consent of that patient is considered to be unethical, however voluntary euthanasia, is also considered to be unethical. John Keown (1997) explains that the harm that is done when taking an individual’s life is the harm done by depriving that individual of something that is valued (p. 9). If a patient’s quality of life is reduced by intractable pain or disease, then to force that patient to suffer is more harmful than assisting the patient to die peacefully.
The element of patient autonomy is central to the issue of legalizing voluntary euthanasia. Autonomy refers to the patient’s...