Euthanasia: A Right to Die with Dignity?

People have a mixed response towards the issue of Euthanasia. A considerable part of society favors it as they feel that free individuals have the right to decide for themselves whether or not it is our right to determine when to terminate someone’s life. The contrasting opinion against euthanasia is that the Society as a whole feels that one must not interfere with the natural process of life and death. It is a popular belief that human beings should not behave as God and end someone’s life. When humans take it upon themselves to shorten their lives or to have others to do it for them by using medically advanced technologies, they do what God is meant to do. They meddle with the divine function, and interfere with the God’s plan.

Euthanasia is the practice of painlessly putting to death persons who have incurable, painful, or distressing diseases or handicaps. It comes from the Greek words for ‘good’ and ‘death’, and is commonly called mercy killing. Voluntary euthanasia may occur when incurably ill persons ask their physician, friend or relative, to put them to death. The patients or their relatives may ask a doctor to withhold treatment and let them die. Many critics of the medical profession contend that too often doctors play god on operating tables and in recovery rooms. They argue that no doctor should be allowed to decide who lives and who dies.

The issue of euthanasia is having a tremendous impact on medicine today. It was only in the nineteenth century that the word came to be used in the sense of speeding up the process of dying and the destruction of so-called useless lives. Today it is defined as the deliberate ending of life of a person suffering from an incurable disease. Euthanasia can be classified into positive and negative euthanasia. A distinction is made between positive, or active, and negative, or passive, euthanasia. Positive euthanasia is the deliberate ending of life; an action taken to cause death in a person. Negative euthanasia is defined as the withholding of life preserving procedures and treatments that would prolong the life of one who is incurably and terminally ill and couldn’t survive without them. The word euthanasia becomes a respectable part of our vocabulary in a subtle way, via the phrase ‘death with dignity’.

Every such legalization (even abortion) can be used in a harmful way. Initially legalized to prevent the child from being born if the fetus is abnormal, abortion later began to be used to kill the fetus if it was to be born as a girl. There is no absolute guarantee that euthanasia would be used for the purpose it is intended for. But we do not normally think that a social practice should be precluded simply because it might sometimes be abused. The crucial issue is whether the evil of the abuses would be so great as to outweigh the benefit of the practice. In the case of euthanasia, the question is whether the abuses or the consequences generally, would be so numerous as to outweigh the advantages of legalization. The choice is not between a present policy that is benign and an alternative that is potentially dangerous. The present policy had its evils, too.

Individuals have the right to decide about their own lives and deaths. What more basic right is there than to decide if you’re going to live? There is none. A person for whom death is inevitable is being kept alive, through so called heroic measures certainly has a fundamental right to say, “Enough’s enough. The treatment’s worse than the disease. Leave me alone. Let me die!” Ironically, those who deny the terminally ill this right do so out of a sense of high morality. Don’t they see that, in denying the gravely ill and suffering the right to release them from pain, they commit the greatest crime?

The period of suffering can be shortened. If you have ever been in an ICU you might have experienced that it’s grim but enlightening. Anyone who’s been there can know how much people can suffer before they die. It’s not just the physical suffering. The emotional, even spiritual, agony is often worse. Today our medical hardware is so sophisticated that the period of suffering can be extended beyond the limit of human endurance. What’s the point of allowing someone a few more months or days or hours of so-called life when death is inevitable? There’s no point. In fact, it’s downright inhumane. When someone under such conditions asks to be allowed to die, it’s far more humane to honor that request than to deny it.

People have a right to die with dignity. Nobody wants to end up plugged into machines and wired to tubes. Who wants to spend their last days lying in a hospital bed wasting away to something that’s hardly recognizable as a human being, let alone his or her former self? The very thought insults the whole concept of what it means to be human. People are entitled to dignity, in life and in death. Just as we respect people’s right to live with dignity, so we must respect their right to die with dignity. In the case of the terminally ill, that means people have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment when it’s apparent to them that all the treatment is doing is destroying their dignity, and reducing them to some subhuman level of humanity.

Pragya Goel

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