Term Paper: Euthanasia Should Be Illegal

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[. . .] Like other suicidal individuals, patients who desire suicide or an early death during a terminal illness are usually suffering from a treatable mental illness, most commonly depression."

Depression coincides with medical conditions for several reasons (Bopp and Coleson, Oregon Right to Life):

The medical condition may biologically cause depression.

The medical condition may trigger depression in patients who are genetically predisposed to depression.

The presence of illness or disease can psychologically cause depression, as is often observed in patients with cancer.

Some treatments or medications have side effects that cause depressive moods or symptoms, especially those involving cancer.

Few terminally ill patients wish to commit suicide unless they have depressive illness as well.

Despite the danger and pervasiveness of depression in terminally ill patients, it is seldom diagnosed (Bopp and Coleson, Oregon Right to Life). Many physicians are not competent to accurately assess depression, especially in complex cases such as patients who are terminally ill. Even psychologists and psychiatrists who routinely treat and diagnose depression may have limited experience doing so for patients who are terminally or chronically ill. And, even when depression is diagnosed, it is often under treated. As a result, terminally ill persons with undiagnosed and/or under treated depression are at risk for seeking suicide.

Many consider suicide primarily because they are pressured into seeing themselves as burdens on their families or society. A Boston Globe survey discovered that the main reason people said they would consider some option to end their lives if they had an incurable and significantly painful illness was because they don't want to be a burden to their families (Balch and O'Steen). And, family members who support the suicide of a terminally ill patient often unwittingly reinforce the notion that the ill family member's life has lost all meaning and value and is nothing but a burden. Regrettably, in an era of concern over escalating medical costs, "unproductive" consumers of medical services are increasingly made to see themselves as drains on society and the economy rather than an individual worthy of good health care.

In addition to medical issues, the euthanasia debate also raises many ethical issues that call to question the morality of euthanasia, particularly when a person other than the terminally ill patient is to make the decision. For example, Active Euthenasia - A Kantian Perspective poses the following queries that give one pause when considering legalization of euthanasia:

For whose benefit is the euthanasia actually taking place?

Ought we allow family members to make a life-or-death decision on behalf of a loved one who may never have expressed a desire to die, simply because they could not vocalize a will to live?

If a person should be suffering with an illness of which there seems no hope of recovery, yet they are unable to make a choice for themselves how do we know what that person would voluntarily choose?

Is it our right to decide whether or not they have a desire to live?

Without knowing for sure what the individual would have chosen, a person is playing God. By doing, the person may well have gone against their will, and thus have committed murder.

The case of Terri Schiavo clearly indicates the possibility for conflict of interest between the terminally ill patient and those acting in the person's behalf (Chastain, 2003).

In 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed and suffered brain damage. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, became her guardian. He filed a malpractice lawsuit against the doctors who attended her and won $1.3 million which was placed in a trust fund for her care and rehabilitation. But, instead of allocating the money to Terri's rehabilitation, her husband hired a right-to-die advocate as his lawyer and began petitioning the courts to have her feeding tube removed, which would kill her.

Michael Schiavo would inherit any money left in Terri's trust and is living with another woman with whom he has a child and plans to marry once Terri dies.

It doesn't appear that Schiavo is in the best position to do what's best for Terri.

While euthanasia supports claim that it offers a choice to people who want it, it has huge potential to victimize minorities and poor people. "Choice" is an appealing word, but inequity in health care is a well documented reality. "If policies or laws permitting assisted suicide are approved, assisted suicide could become the only type of "medical treatment" to which certain people -- those who are members of minority groups, those who are poor, or those who have disabilities -- would have equal access." (Inequities in Health Care for Minorities and the Poor) So, the last to receive health care could very well be the first to receive assisted suicide.

Contrary to popular believe, euthanasia doesn't ensure that patients can die peacefully surrounded by their families and doctors (Marker and Hamlon). In Oregon, troubling events are raising doubts about this myth such as the following incident:

After he took it [the drug overdose], he began to have some physical symptoms.

The symptoms were hard for his wife to handle. Well, she [the wife] called 911. The guy ended up being taken by 911 to a local Portland hospital. Revived. In the middle of it. And taken to a local nursing facility. I don't know if he went back home. He died shortly -- some period of time after that time." (Marker and Hamlon).

During the campaign to legalize euthanasia in Australia, supporters painted pictures of a calm, peaceful death with the patient surrounded by loved ones (Market and Hamlon). Yet, draft guidelines for its implementation recommended that family members should be warned that they may wish to leave the room when the patient is being killed since the death may be very unpleasant to observe. For instance, lethal injections often cause violent convulsions and muscle spasms.

Finally, if society legalized euthanasia then what's next? Once voluntary euthanasia for sick adults becomes common practice, acceptance for of euthanizing elderly, uninsured, or physically handicapped people could easily follow suit. Advocates of euthanasia such as Egendorf (1998) states that if "one believes that the legalization of euthanasia is the beginning of the slippery slope in killing off our burdensome,...you have no faith in the goodness of human nature or the ability of the American democratic system to protect the weak." Egendorf (1998) also believes that guidelines such as waiting periods, doctor's confirmation etc., will protect patients and increase physician accountability. However, "Any society that loses its belief that life is sacred and that only God can decide when to give or take a life has taken a risky step down the road to totalitarianism. In time, life in such a culture will become meaningless, and death will be incredibly cheap." (Kennedy, 1996).

The largest concern raised by the slippery slope argument is that euthanasia will become a means of health care cost containment. "The least costly treatment for any illness is lethal medication." (Marker and Hamlon). In the United States, millions of people have no medical insurance and the elderly, the poor and minorities are often denied access to needed treatment or pain control. HMOs are pressuring doctors to reduce care and health care providers are often likely to benefit financially from providing less, rather than more, care for their patients. Drugs for assisted suicide only cost about $35 to $45, making them far less expensive than providing medical care. This could fill the void from cutbacks for treatment and care with the "treatment" of death. While this may sound like paranoia, the Oregon Medicaid program is already paying for assisted suicide for poor residents as a means of "comfort care."(40) Spokespersons for non-governmental health insurance plans have said the coverage of assisted suicide is "no different than any other covered prescription." (Marker and Hamlon). Legalized euthanasia raises the potential for a profoundly dangerous situation in which the "choice" of euthanasia is the only affordable option for some people.

As doctors in the Netherlands are currently discovering, wherever euthanasia is allowed, all too soon the "right to die" becomes the "duty to die"; which becomes, in turn, the authority for the state to put to death those deemed "expendable" or "taking up vital resources." (Kennedy, 1996).

3.0 Conclusion

Our profit-driven health care system has become so greedy that it is now trying to sell the notion that some people simply are not worth the effort to protect or rehabilitate. Rather than do this directly and risk public outage, they've sold the idea of individual autonomy over their own health care. This couldn't be farther from the truth. It's true that patients may voluntarily request euthanasia, but they're doing so in a depressed state and under conditions where they're made to feel like a financial burden to their families. The Hippocratic Oath, once the morale foundation for guiding conduct in the medical profession, is being replaced with utilitarian… [END OF PREVIEW]

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