Essay, Research Paper: Euthanasia

Legal Issues

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Over the years, the practice of physician assisted suicide, affectionately know
as euthanasia, has evolved into one of the biggest social issues in the United
States and the World. There have been many controversies over whether or not
euthanasia is justified. In some places in the United States, euthanasia is
considered murder (Jussim 47). It is then treated as a murder case and murder
penalties are used. There has been a whole change in euthanasia over the
centuries, but it still serves the same purpose. Euthanasia or assisted suicide
in Greek means "easy death". When broken down, it means the process of
one being euthanized, which means to kill without pain. The process of
euthanasia has actually been practiced for thousands of years, rooting all the
way back to the ancient Egyptians. They practiced euthanasia in all sorts of
ways. A good example of this is when somebody was suffering from a terminal
disease or a gaping, festering wound, or even when an appendage or limb was
severed off they would put the victim to sleep using a natural poison called
ether. Using a rod, they pulled the victims brain out through the nose, killing
the victim (Jussim 53). Euthanasia was then brought up again in the medieval
times. When the person was ill with any type of disease that could not be
treated, or what is called a terminal illness, a poison was put in the cup of
the victim. The victim would then administer the drug himself, clearing the
person who put the poison in the drink of any wrongdoing. This poison would put
the person to sleep, into a coma. Then, about ten minutes later, a person with a
cover over his head so he could remain anonymous, came in and stabbed the victim
through the heart. The victim supposedly felt no pain (Jussim 61). In the United
States today when somebody wants to use euthanasia as a form of dying, a
physician is called in to administer the drug. Physician aid-in-dying is
assistance by a qualified medical practitioner in implementing a patient's
considered wish to end his or her own life, usually by means of lethal
injection. In the Netherlands, the practice is an injection to render the
patient comatose, followed by a second injection called potassium phosphate. In
cases where the patient takes the lethal drug, currently 10g of pentobarbitone,
the doctor is present in 20% of the cases. However where death does not occur
within 12 hours, the doctor is on hand to administer a second drug to accelerate
death, rather than allowing the patient the indignity of lying in a coma for up
to four days, waiting for death to occur (McCuen 81). Objections that the
legalization of the practice would be open to abuse are not sustained by close
examination of data. Patients are already "eased into death" with
morphine under the euphemistic doctrine of "double effect". Published
figures suggest that ethical criteria in the Netherlands are similar to those
already practiced in the United States. Legal safeguards for the various
situations have been thoroughly prepared by legal researchers in draft
legislation. Trends show that the practice will continue whether or not it is
regulated by the legislation (McCuen 118). Although the possibility of
physician-assisted suicide is welcome news to many people who may be facing the
prospect of an agonizing, humiliating and long drawn out disease while still
having some physical capabilities, it is of little reassurance to someone who is
suffering from a wasting disease. The disease will eventually omit the patients'
ability to commit suicide. Also, death by oral ingestion of drugs is far less
effective than by skillful injection. A doctor on hand can make necessary
adjustments of dosage for the patients' weight, condition, age, and history.
This, in essence, is the Dutch argument, and although drugs are often been made
available for the patient to take orally by his or her own hand, if and when
desired and after due consultation, a physician is generally present to offer
the technical support that a patient has the right to expect (McCuen 112). When
a person is terminally ill, his family might suggest the possibility of
euthanasia, when in fact, the person that is ill can only request it. When a
patient requests euthanasia, the first step is to try to improve palliative care
in hopes that euthanasia might be avoided. The term "palliative care"
means surgery to improve the condition of a disease. If this does not lessen the
emotional or physical discomfort of the patient or his family, doctors then
discuss the option of euthanasia, each having an equal say in the decision
making process. Any member of the decision making team has the right to refuse
cooperation in the case of euthanasia, but this refusal cannot stop euthanasia
from taking place. The family may offer spiritual input, but is not involved in
the final decision, nor can a family member request euthanasia for an ill family
member. ONLY A PATIENT CAN REQUEST EUTHANASIA. This protects the patient in two
ways: the family cannot force euthanasia upon the patient and the family cannot
prevent euthanasia if the patient insists on it (McCuen 127-128) In the United
States today, euthanasia continues to raise many legal problems, such as in
cases in which parents and doctors decide not to pursue drastic life-saving
measures for children born with severe birth defects. An enduring ethical
question is also raised by the Hippocratic oath, which requires physicians both
to relieve suffering and to prolong life. The problem is intensified because the
definition of death has become blurred. Formerly, a person was considered dead
when breathing and heart action ceased. Since these functions can be maintained
artificially now, a definition of death that includes brain death-lack of
electrical activity for a period long enough to make return to functioning
virtually impossible-is widely accepted (Baird 37) Euthanasia, even though used
as a beneficial process for leaving the world, has its downsides. In the United
States, euthanasia is a serious crime, punishable by life imprisonment. Some
doctors are helping terminally ill patients commit suicide-a so-called
physician-assisted suicide-without being punished. One of these doctors is a man
by the name of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Jack Kevorkian, affectionately known as
"Dr. Death" was born in Pontiac, Michigan on May 26, 1928. He has
gained notoriety in the early 1990s for his crusade to legalize
physician-assisted suicide. Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan
Medical School in 1952 with a specialty in pathology but never settled into a
steady practice, instead spending his working years moving among hospitals in
Michigan and southern California. During these years he developed his ideas on
assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and built a so-called "suicide
machine", by which patients could administer carbon monoxide to themselves.
Kevorkian became widely know in 1990 when a woman in the early stages of
Alzheimer's disease used his machine to end her life. The machine that she used
was a different one than the earlier one that Kevorkian concocted. This machine
had two tubes-one containing a harmless saline solution and one containing the
deadly poison potassium phenophaline, that were connected intravenously to the
patient. When the patient was ready to die, he would press a button in his hand,
stopping the saline solution. The potassium phenophaline would then run into the
patient, rendering him comatose. About five minutes later, the patient's heart
goes into arrest, as a result of the poison. Ever since this woman's death, he
has assisted more than 20 people with debilitating chronic illness or terminal
diseases to end their lives (AOL 97). After several unsuccessful attempts to
charge Kevorkian with murder, Michigan in 1993 passed a temporary ban on
assisted-suicide. Kevorkian was convicted under the law, but it was overturned.
Both the law and Kevorkian's legal situation remained unresolved. Kevorkian's
activities have frustrated the medical profession as well, which is divided over
the issue of euthanasia. Even those who are sympathetic towards Kevorkian's
avowed intent of allowing suffering patients to die are deeply troubled by his
relatively short evaluation and counseling methods and criticize his
oversimplification of the issues (AOL 96). There are only a few places in the
world where physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely
accepted. Only in some countries in Europe is euthanasia legal. These countries
include the Netherlands, Poland, and Finland. In these countries, euthanasia
accounts for more than 5% of the deaths (Jussim 78).
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