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Euthanasia: The Debate

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Published: Tue, 02 May 2017

The term ‘euthanasia’ is originated from the Greek meaning well death. In the past, the term has often been used in English literature as a welcome way to depart quietly and well from life. Today, however, the connotation has been altered and the most commonly understood meaning of the word has become the practice of ending life in a painless manner – mercy killing. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Modern English, the definition of euthanasia refers to the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment. As such, in definition, the term ‘euthanasia’ is defined as a legally approved and medically assisted mercy killing. However, in most countries, any practice of ‘euthanasia’ is illegal no matter it is supported by the medical professionals or not. This then leads one to consider two fundamental questions regarding euthanasia. First, is euthanasia ethical? Second, depending on the answer of the first question, should euthanasia be legalized? The question as to whether euthanasia is ethical or unethical has been in debate over the years, from Jack Kevorkian, an euthanasia activist assisting at least 130 patients to their ends, to the 2006 Supreme Court ruling on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Many professionals in different fields such as philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, lawyers, doctors have been debating over the issues of ‘right to die’ and ‘dignity of human life’. Decision whether to consider euthanasia as an ethical or non-ethical conduct depends on individual; however, one may set three fundamental questions as their guidelines to ascertain their beliefs and understand opposing viewpoints. 1. Is it ever right for another person to end the life of a terminally ill patient who is in severe pain or enduring other suffering? 2. If euthanasia is sometimes right, under what circumstances is it right? 3. Is there any moral difference between killing someone and letting them die? Taking above three questions into consideration, I came to a conclusion that euthanasia is the compassionate choice and thus should be supported by the same constitutional safeguards that secure such rights as marriage, procreation, etc. “The best way to live and die is to do so deliberately, autonomously, in a way that enables us to view our lives as our own creations. Such freedom includes nothing less than the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. – Michael J. Sandel – Euthanasia is an individual’s right to choose, and that the government should not take that away from anyone no matter the case. Person who owns and lives a life should have the priority to decide what to do with his or her life; it is a gift and the government should not take part in making decisions regarding moral and/or religious matters. Every individual has a choice central to personal dignity and autonomy. This then leads to the second assertion that euthanasia is an ethical conduct that helps patient to acquire natural death. Throughout the centuries, human beings have enabled themselves to prolong their lives through the use of newly developed vaccination and life-supporting machines. Humans are the only mammals who expand their life cycles relying on technology. However, in most of cases where euthanasia is conducted, patients are suffering from terminal illnesses and incurable diseases which technology cannot cure but can only sustain the lives of patients. If the technology fails to cure the disease but only functions to relieve the pain, it is natural to let go of dying one as happens in nature

Social Pressure

Then, to draw answer for the second question: ‘should euthanasia be legalized?’, one should comprehend the concepts of two different types of euthanasia. The first form of euthanasia is the voluntary euthanasia – due to severe pain caused from terminally incurable illness, or if the patient has no hope of recovery according to the opinions of doctors, or if the patient wishes to relieve the financial and psychological burden on patient’s family, the patient could make a voluntary decision to terminate his or her life. As such, this form of euthanasia is also referred as euthanasia by consent. In the context of international laws, voluntary euthanasia has the least controversies. The first controversy is whether the patient is mentally competent to make a desired decision. As the patient is situated in extreme circumstance, he or she may have difficulty in making rational choices whether to receive euthanasia or not. Prepossessed with the desire to avoid any more suffering, patient may lack a thorough understanding of the consequence of euthanasia – definitive death. Thus, although patient may be willing to request for euthanasia, request may not reflect patient’s authentic thoughts. However, if euthanasia is carried under scrupulous procedures – patient’s desire for euthanasia must be consistent and strong for certain period of time, constant medical assessment on the patient’s mental status, etc – it would be easy to prove or disprove whether the patient is mentally competent or not. Social pressure is another controversial issue that can affect the patient’s decision. For many people, they do not want to be a burden on their loved ones when they become weak, incapable of looking after themselves and approach death. According to the perspective of the patient, dying can be a tiring and expensive process upon family members who by reason of law and custom, have to support the patient as well as their own livings. However, this social pressure can again be related to the issue of mental competence. If the patient is mentally competent, fully acknowledging factors of social pressure and how those affect one’s decision, this should not be an issue of controversy. Thus, the government should not question or to disprove a patient’s voluntary decision to proceed euthanasia, if he or she is officially proven to be mentally competent. Last but least, some religions prohibit any form of suicide, and most people consider euthanasia as an indirect form of suicide. However, since not all shares the same religion and thus beliefs, some religion may allow euthanasia; thus people’s beliefs promoting euthanasia must not be prevented by the government since it is very contradictory if government advocates ‘freedom of religion’ but prohibits euthanasia by consent for reasons of religious beliefs. This is comparable to demanding a patient to accept a particular religion and its beliefs. Involuntary euthanasia is the second form of euthanasia – due to patient’s incapability to make decision (patient is in a coma, have severe brain damage, or have mental disabilities to a very severe extent), decisions regarding euthanasia, must be made by friends, family or doctors’ of patients in order to bring the most beneficial course of treatment. As such, this form of euthanasia is often referred as euthanasia without consent. In comparison to voluntary euthanasia, this form is definitely more complicated. In most of the cases, people who make the decisions – friends, family members, doctors – do not agree either among themselves or even with the patient. For instance, judging that any means to protract the life of patient would be redundant in the future, doctors may strongly advocate euthanasia. On the other hand, patient’s acquaintance – family members, friends – may be more familiar with the patient’s moral and ethical values and disagree with euthanasia as an ultimate mean to end one’s life. Moreover, patient’s inability to communicate causes a further uncertainty. As most countries view euthanasia as an illegal medical practice, governments in most countries do not have any policies or laws indicating who has the final decision to terminate patient’s life. Therefore, in order to reduce any confusion, the government should not intervene to prohibit euthanasia – prohibition of euthanasia completely ignores some views of people – but should intervene to legalize euthanasia so that choices whether to conduct euthanasia or not can be left among patient’s associates. Then, by establishing laws as to who should be prioritized in making decisions for patient, patients may have greater chance to pass their opinions about euthanasia through acquaintance whereas government banning could only bring one outcome which may be less desirable to some patients. In this day and age, most countries have been very hypocritical regarding issues of euthanasia. Constitutions in most countries reject the notion/concept of human euthanasia while accepting animal euthanasia in most cases. On one hand, governments argue that euthanasia neglects the dignity of human life: “Accepting euthanasia would replace the equality-of-human-life ethic with a utilitarian and nihilistic ‘death culture’ that views the intentional ending of certain human lives as an appropriate and necessary answer to life’s most difficult challenges… the dire consequences that would flow from such a radical shift in morality are profound and disturbing.” – Wesley Smith. JD, International Anti – Euthanasia Task Force – At the same time, on the other hand, the governments prohibiting euthanasia accept animal euthanasia. They seek to secure dignity of human life but not dignity of other living beings. For instance, in most countries, animal owners and veterinarians have primary decisions to put down the lives of animal and there are no moral or legal issues against these acts. No complicated procedure is taken and the voices of animal owner and veterinarians – humans’ – are dominant. On the other hand, vague efforts have been put in to recognize the feelings of animal – ignorance. Some may view euthanasia as murder, assisted suicide or mercy killing. However, no matter what forms that euthanasia takes, I believe that the primary decision whether to practice euthanasia or not should be given to the individual patients rather than the governments. Individuals must have decisions to live or die.


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