Pros And Cons Of Assisted Suicide
In recent years there has been much discussion about assisted suicide (euthanasia) in countries such as Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon. In this article I will outline some pros and cons of assisted suicide and then suggest that it should never become legalised.
Assisted suicide is when someone intentionally ends their own life with the help or encouragement of another person.
The most common form of assisted suicide involves patients being given an overdose of barbiturates or similar drugs while they are unconscious. This method was first used by Dr John Kevorkian, known as “Dr Death”, in America in 1963. Since his death in 1999, many other doctors have followed suit. In Europe, some doctors practise assisted suicide under similar conditions.
However, more recently, methods such as lethal injection, which can involve conscious sedation, have increasingly come into use. These involve injections of chemicals that cause cardiac arrest, thereby causing death.
People who want to end their own life usually choose either voluntary or medically-induced coma before administering the fatal dose. They often talk to friends and family beforehand, and even write detailed wills. Some say that they feel relieved after ending their lives because they no longer suffer from unbearable pain or mental anguish.
These claims are dubious at best. Many people who want to die find ways of doing so without assistance. As soon as they decide that they want to die they make preparations for self-inflicted deaths. For example, they might take pills or buy guns. Others may try to commit suicide but fail – sometimes due to being interrupted, or having second thoughts.
Some people may think that they don’t deserve to live if they are unable to work, or if they have severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. But such considerations only serve to reinforce our sense of worth. We ought to value ourselves irrespective of whether we are able bodied or disabled.
There are also those who believe that they are suffering from incurable depression and therefore see nothing wrong in taking their own lives. However, depression is just a chemical imbalance caused by brain chemistry. There is no evidence whatsoever that suicide rates among sufferers of terminal illnesses are higher than amongst non-sufferers. Depression does not lead inexorably to suicide. Indeed, many depressed people manage to cope remarkably well despite their condition.
It’s true though that some people do experience suicidal feelings. People who are feeling despondent or overwhelmed by problems should seek professional help. If suicidal ideas persist or worsen, however, they must be taken seriously. Suicidal feelings may indicate underlying problems that need urgent medical attention.
One of the arguments put forward in favour of assisted suicide is that people who are terminally ill and/or incurably sick could receive relief from intolerable physical pain by opting out of treatment. Painkillers and palliative care can often provide adequate comfort for many terminally-ill patients.
Forcing people to continue with painful treatment against their wishes simply prolongs their agony unnecessarily. Moreover, it violates the patient’s right to bodily integrity. Doctors have ethical obligations to alleviate unnecessary suffering. Patients have rights too. To deny them access to certain forms of therapy is cruel.
Other arguments in favour of assisted suicide include that it is morally acceptable since it gives dying patients control over their final days. Yet it deprives them of autonomy. By choosing to kill themselves they lose their ability to act on their own behalf.
Their choices are limited to what others choose for them. Their actions are determined by others. So they lose control over their own destiny.
Also, it suggests that human beings are inherently flawed and incapable of making rational decisions. That view contradicts mainstream scientific opinion. Humans are fully capable of deciding how they wish to spend their last moments. Human beings are moral agents who possess free will. We have within us the power to act autonomously. Therefore we have the freedom to decide how we shall live our lives.
Finally, it suggests that humans are essentially selfish creatures motivated by greed, lust and revenge. Such views contradict the teachings of major religions. Most religious traditions emphasise compassion towards fellow human beings. Our ultimate goal is to strive for sanctity. This means striving to live according to divine justice rather than self-interest.
So what are the downsides?
Firstly, it diminishes the protection offered to the lives of all. This is because it allows the killing of people who do not genuinely volunteer to be killed. Any safeguards, although initially observed, would inevitably weaken over time. Someone who doesn’t really want to die could easily be persuaded to change their mind. Or someone who wants to die could find a way to carry out their plan.
Secondly, it encourages people to deceive others. Perhaps they won’t tell everyone exactly why they’re going to end their lives. Maybe they’ll give out different reasons depending on whom they encounter. One reason could be that they don’t like particular kinds of food; another reason could be that they hate their job; yet another reason could be that they hate their partner.
Thirdly, it encourages deception. When someone dies unexpectedly, people tend to assume that something suspicious happened. They might suspect foul play or hidden agendas. Some unscrupulous people exploit these suspicions to their advantage. They might encourage people to pursue false leads or dig up dirt on other people.
Fourthly, it discourages open discussions between family members. Family members might avoid talking about unpleasant subjects such as illness, disability and death. Instead, they’d prefer to focus on lighter topics, such as jokes, gossip and sports.
Fifthly, it undermines the role of medicine. Medicine involves seeking answers to questions and helping people solve problems. A doctor tries to treat symptoms and offer advice on what steps to take to improve one’s health. He or she doesn’t pretend that the patient’s life is worthless.
Sixthly, it reduces the respect shown to the elderly. It implies that the elderly lack wisdom and understanding.
Seventhly, it erodes trust in society. Ordinary citizens may doubt the motives of doctors and politicians. They may start to question the reliability of institutions such as banks, media outlets, government agencies, schools etc.
Eighthly, it creates a slippery slope. Once we begin accepting euthanasia, where else can we stop? Eventually we may accept abortion, capital punishment, war and ethnic cleansing.
Ninthly, it devalues human life. Dying isn’t necessarily bad. We shouldn’t fear death. Life itself is a gift and we ought to cherish it.
Tenthly, it makes us less compassionate. We may grow callous and indifferent towards the sufferings of others.
Eleventhly, it weakens love and affection. Friends and relatives may distance themselves emotionally from each other. They may grow distant or estranged.
Lastly, it contravenes the spirit of religion. Most religions teach that we are here temporarily on Earth to enjoy God’s bounty and to learn lessons and gain spiritual enlightenment. We ought to look beyond our short term interests and consider what happens after death.
I hope you agree with me that it’s better to leave matters as they are. Let’s respect life and let nature take its course. Why upset things unnecessarily?
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
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