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Philosophy 101: Euthanasia - A Complicated Affair

In the last of the philosophy 101 series, the examination into whether or not euthanasia - the legal right given by the state to allow people the right to die - should be granted. It follows on from the last series questioning the rights of defendants in cases of a sexual nature over anonymity. There are many arguments for and against euthanasia, including; it is expensive to keep people alive when there is no cure for their illness. Euthanasia would release precious resources to treat people who could live and it would lead to worse care for the terminally ill, though I will highlight the main three arguments for, and outline the counter-arguments. The main three arguments are The Compassion argument, The autonomy argument, and The public policy argument.

“We have no control over how we arrive in the world but at the end of life we should have control over how we leave it.” Patrick Stuart - Patron of Dignity in Dying

Euthanasia or assisted dying is a very divisive topic amongst many. For some, the notion that one has a right to take a life should not even be up for debate. Staunch believers in God, for instance, argue that no one has the right to play God, and only God himself should decide over matters of life and death. While others argue that it is cruel to keep someone alive who may be suffering from a terminal illness. When people's pets are in great pain and suffering it is understood that the right course of action to take is to have the animal put to sleep. Society generally accepts that this is the right action to take. But when it comes to humans, society takes a very different view. Some argue that People can make unexpected recoveries or some may change their mind about euthanasia and be unable to tell anyone. There are countries that have legalized euthanasia; Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, Colombia, and most recently Spain. This is a delicate subject that one needs to understand the main arguments across all sides of the debate.

The compassion argument - this is an extension to the aforementioned example of someone living with a terminal illness. People view that giving someone the right to die in dignity is kinder than forcing them to live a life of suffering and pain. The argument against this is that surely it is more compassionate to love and care for someone who is nearing the end of life to demonstrate just how valuable and beautiful life is regardless of age or abilities. However, on the other hand, family and friends would be spared the pain of seeing their loved one suffer a long-drawn-out death if they had that legal right to choose. This point also highlights that this sad dilemma affects not just the person concerned, but all who are connected with the patient.

Warnand, J. (11 Feb 2014). Activists of the collective Yellow Safety Jacket protest against the proposed statutory amendment legalizing the euthanasia of young children, in Brussels [Photograph]. Time.Com.

The autonomy argument - this argument, touched on above is simply saying that every human being should have the right to choose when to die if one is living a life of misery, pain, and suffering. Also, death is a private matter and the state should not interfere with the individual's right to die. The counter-argument is why should dying be a 'right' at all. Similar to the religious view, this line of thinking is to say that nature should decide when a person dies. It is not a necessary right for human beings. Another argument against euthanasia is that it does not really give people the right to die, merely the right for patients to kill themselves or it puts the legal power in the hands of others, like doctors, friends, and family to end a person's life. Moreover, questions over advancements in medication and technology can allow for a greater quality of life. Patients no longer have to live in abject pain and misery with good palliative care. Again, all very understandable arguments only go to show just how complex this debate is.

For anyone unsure of where to fall on this debate, sometimes just listening or reading personal stories can help to make one's own mind up. Or muddle it further! In 2016 in the Netherlands - where euthanasia is legal - Mark Langedijk was granted life-ending treatment after years of suffering from alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. "For me, it's very important to make sure that everyone knows we did everything and some people just aren't curable," his brother, Marcel, told the BBC. However, on the other side of the coin, the BBC, in April 2016 reported that Dutch authorities brought a case against a doctor who euthanized a 74-year old Alzheimer's patient. The decision was taken after a regional euthanasia review board found she had "overstepped the mark" in euthanizing the 74-year-old Alzheimer's patient. Prosecutors allege the patient's will was "unclear and contradictory" when it came to her final wishes. The doctor, who has not been named, says she acted cautiously in the case.

Bowden, E. (19 Jun 2019). Australian state legalizes voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Nytimes.Com.

The case highlighted above brings into focus the final argument for euthanasia: The public policy argument - this is the idea that governments can safely regulate and control assisted suicide. According to the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, "We can draw on decades of experience with medical assistance in dying from other countries". They have been carefully studied and there has been no slippery slope to disaster - 2017. So essentially, Singer argues that there has not been a major concern of malpractice in countries where euthanasia is legal. His philosophy is simple. Singer believes that humans have an obligation to reduce what he calls 'pointless suffering'. People argue that governments could not truly control this type of legislation. There have been other cases in the Netherlands where physician-assisted suicides go unreported.

If one is still confused about how to think or feel about this debate then the following argument for the anti-euthanasia team might help to clarify one’s thoughts. What about the protection of the vulnerable? This is, personally speaking, the best argument that this side has. The elderly or mentally ill could be exploited for personal or financial gain. Sure, there could be protocols in place to prevent the likelihood of this happening, but people always find a way around the rules. Where there is a will there is a way! (no pun intended). But, even if there is no coercion by family members who are due a healthy inheritance from their loved one, there could be untold pressure on the patient to take their own life. The unimaginable guilt for merely staying alive could cause a kind of tacit resentment. The philosopher Rene Girade makes the salient point, “The exper­i­ence of death is going to get more and more pain­ful, con­trary to what many people believe. The forth­com­ing euthanas­ia will make it more rather than less pain­ful because it will put the emphas­is on per­son­al decision in a way which was bliss­fully ali­en to the whole prob­lem of dying in former times. It will make death even more sub­ject­ively intol­er­able, for people will feel respons­ible for their own deaths and mor­ally oblig­ated to rid their rel­at­ives of their unwanted pres­ence. Euthanas­ia will fur­ther intensi­fy all the prob­lems its advoc­ates think it will solve.”


BBC News, (8 Feb 2019). What's the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia?. BBC News.

BBC News, (9 Nov 2018). First euthanasia prosecution launched in the Netherlands. BBC News.

Singer, P. (18 Sep 2017). We should end the suffering of patients who know they are dying and want to do so peacefully. The Guardian.

Rosman, A. (5 Nov 2014). Girard: Assisted Suicide and the Further Intensification of Problem. Patheos.

Source images

Warnand, J. (11 Feb 2014). Activists of the collective Yellow Safety Jacket protest against the proposed statutory amendment legalizing the euthanasia of young children, in Brussels [Photograph]. Time.Com.

Bowden, E. (19 Jun 2019). Australian state legalizes voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Nytimes.Com.

1 Comment

Nov 21, 2021

I think its a loop hole topic.

You don't want to live in medical life support system but also the question emerges '' What if they will find a cure to my disease in 10 years question…'' It's all creates paradox that the one can not find solution. How terrifying.

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Peter Terrence

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