Active Euthanasia, Free Will and Autonomy
"Medicine in the hands of a fool has always been poison and death." -C. J. Jung
Euthanasia, from the Greek, quite literally means "the good death." Advocates of euthanasia, offer it as a solution for the emotional, psychological and physiologic suffering of terminally ill patients. The type of euthanasia, which is presently under debate, is called "active euthanasia" and is defined as an act performed by an individual to bring about the death of another person. Advocates for euthanasia represent "the good death" as a welcome alternative to "the miserable life." However, euthanasia is not actively practiced because law precludes it.
Indeed, three benchmark ancient texts constitute the authority for human institutions of western civilization which prohibit the practice of euthanasia. The ancient legal code of Hammurabi, the Mosaic texts of the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition and The Hippocratic Oath handed down from ancient Greece, all have provisional language forbidding the practice of active euthanasia. Thus, organized disciplines of modern society, namely organized medicine, as well as the judicial and legislative bodies, which were constituted upon the ethical traditions of Western Civilization by longstanding convention, forbid the practice of active euthanasia on moral and ethical grounds. Quite simply, one human being shall not kill another. This is the command that has been handed down to humanity, so many millennia ago.
Presently, the global community is faced with an ethical crisis, as the institutionalization of euthanasia is actively explored in several member nations; namely, Netherlands and Australia. Evangelium Vitae, an encyclical document released by Pope John Paul II, 1995) decries:
"the surprising contradiction... in which the very cultures which asserted human rights are now the enemies of human life. Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right of life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence...the moment of death."
One of the chief arguments supporting legalization of euthanasia, is that built upon the concepts of individual "free will, autonomy" and the right to exercise them. However, the elevation of these rights of the individual above those of the greater social group are a concern. The concern which arises, is that institutions which would exercise the free will of an individual, on a populace of individuals who are terminally ill, might lose track of the elusive quality of freedom as it relates to will, and implement someone else's will upon an unwilling individual, or upon an entire group for that matter. According to Mohler (1997): "Western Civilization is breaking down under the corrosive influence of radical subjectivity and individualism. Freedom is divorced from ...