The Debate Over Euthanasia
The controversy over euthanasia has recently become highly publicized. However, this issue is not a new debate. Society has voiced its opinions on the subject for hundreds of years. Euthanasia, which is Greek for "good death", refers to the act of ending another person’s life in order to end their suffering and pain.1 Two forms, passive and active euthanasia, categorize the actions taken to end the person’s life. Passive euthanasia involves removing a patient’s life support, withholding food and water, and discontinuing medical treatments. Active euthanasia includes any direct action taken to cause the death of the person, such as administrating a lethal drug.2 The debate over this issue stems from moral, ethical, and religious beliefs. All of these standpoints either side with the patient dying a natural death or from an accelerated death by euthanasia.
Throughout history, euthanasia has been used as a way to relieve a patient from an incurable illness or from living a life of unbearable pain. Many cultures, such as the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, did not oppose one’s decision to end his life rather than living with agonizing pain.3 During this time period, this choice was commonplace. A few ancient philosophers, who believed that the ending of a human life belonged to the gods only, met it with objection. When the Christian era began, the subject was rarely discussed or practiced because of the strong trust and faith held in God and his divine command. It was not until the eighteenth century Enlightenment period that new ideas favoring euthanasia were put forth by philosophers and other prominent figures such as Samuel Williams and David Hume.4 By the close of the 1800’s, doctors and medical organizations began attacking the idea of euthanasia. They believed that pain medications should be used to control discomfort but not to cause death.5 This debate continues today and the views on it are just as strong as they were centuries ago.
Why patients turn to euthanasia
Medical procedures and treatments improve immensely every year. With the new technology and advancements, diseases and ailments that were once deadly are not nearly as incapacitating as in previous years. However, some remain debilitating and fatal. For example, some forms of cancer remain terminal even after numerous attempts at treatment. Sometimes the side effects from chemotherapy like nausea, extreme exhaustion and muscle soreness, are more severe than the symptoms of the disease itself.6 Often times, the patients begin to feel as though the efforts being made to cure their disease have become useless and have made their life not worthwhile. In these cases, terminal patients might choose to simply stop the treatments. Another time when a person might turn to euthanasia is when the illness is causing him a terrible amount of pain, and the medicine being administered to the patient does not allow him to live the...