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Sample essay topic, essay writing: Euthanasia: An Overview - 1485 words
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Euthanasia: An OverviewThere has been much debate in recent American society over the legalityand morality of a patients right-to-die. Current legal statue prohibits anyform of euthanasia, however, there are many moral and ethical dilemmasconcerning the controversy. For the purposes of this essay, I will defineeuthanasia as the implementation of a decision that a person's life will come toan end before it need stop. In other words, it is a life ending when it wouldotherwise be prolonged. There is an important distinction between voluntaryeuthanasia where the decision to terminate life coincides with the individualswishes and involuntary euthanasia where the individual concerned does not knowabout the decision and has not approved it in advance.
I will be dealingspecifically with the concept of voluntary euthanasia, for it seems intuitivethat involuntary euthanasia is not only illegal but also profoundly immoral.Opponents arguments against euthanasia which fail to substantiate their claims,many proponents arguments highlighted by the right to autonomy, and empiricalexamples of legalized euthanasia all prove the moral legitimacy of physician-assisted-suicide. Opponents of euthanasia generally point to three main arguments which Iwill mention only for the purposes of refuting them. First, many cite theHippocratic oath which reads, 'I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked,nor suggest any such counsel' as a reason to oppose euthanasia. Clearly, theHippocratic oath does condemn the practice, however, I do not find this asreason enough to reject the moral permissibility of euthanasia. If the premiseof the oath is flawed (i.e., if it is morally permissible for a physician toassist in suicide), then a physician should not be prohibited from assisting insuicide simply because of an oath. Indeed, if it is proven (as will be donelater in this essay) that euthanasia is a moral way to end needless suffering,then doctors should be obliged to fulfill their patients requests for earlydeath. The second argument that opponents of euthanasia cite is based on theJudeo-Christian ethic of human life being the ultimate value of existence. Thisargument is vague at best. At the most well-explained level, it says that humanlife is intrinsically valuable and should be preserved in every instance(because human bodily life is the life of a person) thus euthanasia is wrongbecause it is killing before life would naturally end. This argument is provenunsound in two ways
First, I believe that human life is distinct frompersonhood. Many patients requesting euthanasia have ceased to be personsbecause they are terminally ill and incapable of enjoying the gift of existence.Thus many of these individuals ( and certainly those in a vegetative state witha living will that requests euthanasia) are living lives that are notintrinsically valuable. Second, I disagree with the notion that life isintrinsically valuable and should be preserved in every instance. I believethat life is valuable only inasmuch as it is the basis for rational decision-making. (This argument will be elaborated upon later in the essay).
Therefore,we respect the value of life by respecting a persons autonomy and allowing themto willingly end their life. The final argument given by opponents ofeuthanasia is the notion of a slippery slope in which legalized voluntaryeuthanasia will snowball and begin to result in widespread involuntaryeuthanasia. The basis for this reasoning is that under a system of voluntaryeuthanasia, doctors must make the final determination of whether a person can beeuthanized or not therefore allowing them to decide if a patients life is'worth' living. Many feel that if doctors can do this to competent people, itcould snowball to incompetent patients and doctors may make decisions toeuthanize without the will of patients. However, I argue that the moralpermissibility of euthanasia depends on a patients voluntary consent.
If apatient does not expressly wish to die, then a doctor who kills a patientwithout the consent of that patient would be acting immorally. From a legalstandpoint, the request for euthanasia would have to come first from the patient,which diminishes the likelihood of involuntary euthanasia occurring. Giventhese two scenarios, the idea of a slippery slope is dispelled on both atheoretical and a pragmatic level. Furthermore, empirical evidence that willbe discussed later disproves the notion of a slippery slope. In addition to the responses to opponents claims, there are many reasonswhy euthanasia is morally acceptable.
The justifications for voluntary activeeuthanasia rest in four main areas. First, society has a moral obligation torespect individual autonomy when we can do so without harm to others and whendoing so does not violate some other moral obligation. This is because life isintrinsically valuable only as a result of its necessity for decision-making andfree will. Life without autonomy ceases to be of the utmost value, rather, apersons right to choose his or her life (and death) course should be the highestpriority. This principle guarantees a persons right to have his or her owndecisions respected in determining medical treatment, including euthanasia.
Thesecond argument for the moral acceptance of euthanasia rests on the premise ofmercy and compassion, two ideals which are essential to human dignity. In mostcases when a person requests euthanasia they are suffering unrelenting andcontinual pain, and there is no reasonable possibility of substantial recovery.It is morally repugnant to watch another person suffer through humiliatinghelplessness and constant pain when one could prevent it. It is widelyconsidered humane to put animals that are permanently physically impaired todeath, yet humans cannot currently receive the same mercy under the law, evenwhen they request it. When we are confronted with suffering which is whollydestructive in its consequences and, as far as we can tell, could have nobeneficial result, there is a moral obligation to end it. The third affirmationof the moral legitimacy of euthanasia is that of justice.
Euthanasia allows forfairer distribution of medical resources in a society which lacks sufficientresources to treat all of its people. Because we have an obligation to relievesuffering, people have a right to whatever medical resources might be effectivein the treatment of their condition. However, the scarcity of resources ensuresthat not all medical claims can be met, therefore a fair way to distributemedical resources must be found. If treatment must be denied to some peoplewith the result that they will die, then it is better to deny it to those peoplewho are medically unsalvageable and will die soon with or without treatment.The final justification for euthanasia is that the burden of proof for rejectingthe morality of the practice should rest with its opponents. It is up to anyperson or institution wanting to prevent an individual from doing something heor she wants to do to provide sound reasoning which justifies interference.Since it has already been proven that opponents arguments against euthanasiafail to substantiate their claim that it should not occur, then the practiceshould be considered moral.
The Netherlands successful experiment with legalized voluntaryeuthanasia is further proof that physician-assisted-suicide is a moral action.The Dutch legalized euthanasia partly because they realize that the practiceoccurs frequently in the status quo and is now entirely at the discretion ofphysicians. 85% of deaths in the United States occur in hospitals or nursinghomes; of those 70% involve withholding life-sustaining treatment. This iscertainly a form of euthanasia, yet it is uncontrolled and oftentimes performedwithout the patient's knowledge. On the contrary, the Dutch system brings thequestion of euthanasia into the open and allows for regulations which lessen thelikelihood of a slippery slope. The requirements for euthanasia under Dutch laware that patients must ask to be euthanized, they must be fully informed oftheir medical condition, suffering must be intolerable, and the process ofcarrying out the patients death wish must be performed by a doctor. Thesestringent guidelines have created an environment where 2,300 individuals havefound relief in the form of euthanasia, an number which represents just 1.8 % ofall deaths in the Netherlands.
Only 1/3 of all requests for euthanasia arehonored by physicians, which is proof against the slippery slope argument. Astudy published by the Dutch government in 1992 further dispels the slipperyslope theory. It reported that since euthanasia had been legalized, only 2cases have been documented where a patient was euthanized without request. Inboth cases the patient was suffering severe pain, and was terminally ill. Giventhe large numbers of deaths from euthanasia, this statistic seems to be verysmall in comparison.
Also, in no instance has a patient been put to deathagainst his or her expressed or implied wish. This empirical evidenceconcretely disproves the notion that voluntary euthanasia will somehow snowballto involuntary euthanasia. It is also powerful proof that voluntary euthanasiacan be carried out legally and with no great harms to society or individuals. The unsubstantiated claims of euthanasia opponents, many affirmativearguments supporting the moral permissibility of euthanasia, and the successfulDutch experiment with legalization all prove that euthanasia is a legitimatemoral practice. If we do not allow for individual autonomy in determining thescope and extent of medical treatment, then we are sentencing many terminallyill patients to a final stage of life filled with misery and wracked withunrelenting pain.
Instead, the moral and ethical course of action is to grantpatients who request euthanasia the mercy and relief of a death with dignity.
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