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People should have the right to euthanasia

Messenger Euthanasia represents one of the oldest issues in medical ethics. It is forbidden in the original Hippocratic Oath, and has consistently been opposed by most religious traditions since antiquity — other than, incidentally, abortion, which has only been formally banned by the Catholic Church since the middle of the 19th century.

Death with dignity

Euthanasia is a wide topic with many dimensions. I will limit myself in this article to the issue of assisted death, which seems to me to be one of the most pressing issues of our time. Desmond Tutu, emeritus archbishop of Cape Town, raised it again on his 85th birthday in an article in the Washington Post.

I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs. Assisted death can take the form of physician assisted suicide PAS. Here a suffering and terminal patient is assisted by a physician to gain access to a lethal substance which the patient himself or herself takes or administers.

Why Everyone Should Have The Right to Die

There are a number of reasons for the opposition to physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia. The value bestowed on human life in all religious traditions and almost all cultures, such as the prohibition on murder is so pervasive that it is an element of common, and not statutory, law.

The main victims of such possible abuse could well be the most vulnerable and indigent members of society: Those who cannot pay for prolonged accommodation in expensive health care facilities and intensive care units. Death with dignity In support of physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia, the argument is often made that, as people have the right to live with dignity, they also have the right to die with dignity.

Right to die

Some medical conditions are simply so painful and unnecessarily prolonged that the capability of the medical profession to alleviate suffering by means of palliative care is surpassed. Intractable terminal suffering robs the victims of most of their dignity. In addition, medical science and practice is currently capable of an unprecedented prolongation of human life. It can be a prolongation that too often results in a concomitant prolongation of unnecessary and pointless suffering.

  • Those who cannot pay for prolonged accommodation in expensive health care facilities and intensive care units;
  • Doctors have unique responsibilities, and therefore we hold them to different ethical standards than ordinary people;
  • Far from simply carrying out the wishes of dying patients, they would be responsible for deciding whether the patient is of sound mind and really does want to die.

Enormous pressure is placed upon both families and the health care system to spend time and very costly resources on patients that have little or no chance of recovery and are irrevocably destined to die. It is, so the argument goes, not inhumane or irreverent to assist such patients — particularly if they clearly and repeatedly so request — to bring their lives to an end.

  • Intractable terminal suffering robs the victims of most of their dignity;
  • A reasoned, well thought out and governed practice of physician assisted death or euthanasia is effective in the prevention of unnecessary pain and suffering and can result in a net benefit for society;
  • Most of those issues for example the danger of the exploitation of vulnerable patients I believe, can be satisfactorily dealt with by regulation;
  • Most terminal patients want their death to be a peaceful one and with as much consolation as possible.

I am personally much more in favour of the pro-PAS and pro-VAE positions, although the arguments against do raise issues that need to be addressed.

Most of those issues for example the danger of the exploitation of vulnerable patients I believe, can be satisfactorily dealt with by regulation. Argument in favour of assisted suicide The most compelling argument in favour of physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia is the argument in support of committing suicide in a democracy.

The right to commit suicide is, as far as I am concerned, simply one of the prices we have to be willing to pay as citizens of a democracy.

Should you have the right to die?

We do not have the right, and we play no discernible role, in coming into existence. But we do have the right to decide how long we remain in existence. The fact that we have the right to suicide, does not mean that it is always morally right to execute that right. It is hard to deny the right of an 85-year-old with terminal cancer of the pancreas and almost no family and friends left, to commit suicide or ask for assisted death. In this case, he or she both has the right, and will be in the right if exercising that right.

Compare that with the situation of a 40-year-old man, a husband and father of three young children, who has embezzled company funds and now has to face the music in court. He, also, has the right to commit suicide.

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But, I would argue, it would not be morally right for him to do so, given the dire consequences for his family. To have a right, does not imply that it is always right to execute that right. My argument in favour of physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia is thus grounded in the right to suicide, which I think is fundamental to a democracy.

Why Everyone Should Have The Right to Die

Take the case of a competent person who is terminally ill, who will die within the next six months and has no prospect of relief or cure. I am convinced that to perform physician assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia in this situation is not only the humane and respectful, but the morally justified way to go. The primary task of the medical profession is not to prolong life or to promote health, but to relieve suffering.

We have a right to die with dignity, and the medical profession has a duty to assist in that regard.