IS EUTHANASIA ETHICAL?

What if you found yourself facing a future which included a painful terminal illness? Perhaps your body would be failing while your mind stayed bright and clear. Would you want the option to end your life? Is it reasonable to allow others to commit assisted suicide if this was their situation?

Tags: big, euthanasia, questions

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Looks like nobody's touched this one, so i'll have a crack at it while i'm on a roll.

Been there (sorry, this is philosophy i know, not personal experience, but face it, they're near useless without each other). My own grandfather, Hermann Leslie Muller, suffered a stroke in his early eighties, and the fallout from various health complications left him in severe pain for several hours a day every day, and he lived on through it for four more years before he died. Never once did he speak of wanting to die, or wanting to speed the process (even though he knew it was not far away). He spent the time with his wife and family, all of whom were around his bedside when he finally departed. We could all be so lucky. There was sadness mixed with relief and even joy (he's gone, but at least he's no longer in pain), so it's understandable that people might have strong views in either direction concerning this one.

Personally, I reckon that this question (like pretty much all the really deep ones) comes down to your own revelation or understanding of God. If you believe in God (or any personal being who created you, let's be general here), then your life isn't your own and the choice to take it or not isn't yours to make. You're being selfish and trying to take the place of God, who gave you a purpose, and might disagree with you heading off with it unfulfilled. After all, you might hurt, but you don't know the future and no doctor has ever got a diagnosis wrong, nor has any person ever fought off an illness which has been labelled 'terminal', have they? Don't give up before the final whistle!
On the other hand, if you don't believe in God, then for crying out loud, just do it already because you're wasting our precious natural resources, we're all going to die some day, maybe it'll be better in your next life, they've already got six people lined up to take your hospital bed as soon as you're finished, etc etc.

This is closely related to the question of "is there life after death?" If not, then no problem. If so, then what form does it take and how is that decided? Once you've got an answer, how confident are you that those beliefs of yours are correct? Are you confident enough to put them to the test by pulling the pin on this life, knowing that you won't (or will, depending on your beliefs? not sure?) get a second chance? My guess is that not many people would be.
This won't answer the question directly, but at least it should be a new perspective.

A friend of mine had a kitten with feline infectious peritonitis. It's 100% lethal to cats. No effect on humans, and no other cats in that house.

The kitten lost weight, and eventually lost its vision. It was like a skeleton. It crawled up into your lap (you'd better wear long pants, because it had to do it with claws), and purred to comfort itself. Eventually it wouldn't purr.

"Should I put him down?" the friend asked.

I thought about this. This was my take: Suppose you put him down before he starts feeling really bad, and save him two weeks of wasting away till death.

There's not much more you can give him than you already have (shelter, food, love), except one thing: two more weeks of existence. He only gets about 8 months. Isn't it better to let him have a little more?

Existence is not neutral. It's a good thing. If the kitten had been screaming in agony, it might have been different. But he was merely uncomfortable. Killing him would have been more to spare the owner distress, than to help the kitten. So the owner kept him till he died in his sleep.

That's about euthanasia: killing someone or something because you judge life to be worse than death. Assisted suicide is another thing, for another post.
Here's the problem with assisted suicide: it *already* involves killing people who don't like the idea, or who are unaware, and calling it "suicide." Suicide is when you kill yourself, not when someone else kills you. But it is awfully convenient sometimes for someone to kill another and call it suicide. Convenient, and therefore dangerous. It must not be allowed in that form.
Animals are one thing. We have to speak for them, or more accurately judge for ourselves. As one who put down a dog and best friend of nearly 14 years only two weeks ago I can tell you just how hard it is. Judging quality of life, apparent vs. estimated suffering was extremely difficult in this case and I had to be careful not to be too selfish and try to keep him around too long out of grief of missing him. If you are putting an animal down mostly to spare owner distress, you shouldn't own an animal. Some say I may have waited too long, others have thought maybe I acted too hastily this last time. I take some confort in the fact there are opinions on both sides indicating my choice was somewhere in the middle and not further out on an extreme.

However, that is animals and they are not our own species. I find it interesting that we seem to permit ourselves to speak for and euthanize an animal when they can't ask for it, but fail to offer the same courtesy to a human who does.

What do you think of DNR orders in a living will? Do you think it wrong to have them? Do you think it wrong of any medical staff that complies with them?

My view is nobody has more responsibility over a life than the person living it.

Now certainly there are too many times we are convinced that a death, or a suicide were not necessary. And certainly we have the technology to make someone comfortable during those last moments. But there are also times when rallying cry that once worked so well has lost its charm and enough is enough.

As for assisted suicide, I am in favor of it but it needs to be able to come out from the underground where there are too many shades of gray and be regulated by a fair process with strict qualifications. If we make it ok but take the "convenience" and back-alley operations out of it, it wouldn't be so dangerous.

Suicide raises other questions as well. Is it ever ok? Depression? dying in a failed attempt to save others? Dying in a sucessfull attempt to save others? Is smoking slow suicide? Alcohol?

@ David Charles Findlay: You have my full sympathy and condolences on your grandfather and his stoic resolve to survive. However your remark; "On the other hand, if you don't believe in God, then for crying out loud, just do it already because you're wasting our precious natural resources, we're all going to die some day, maybe it'll be better in your next life, they've already got six people lined up to take your hospital bed as soon as you're finished, etc etc.", is, to be as polite has possible, unecessary. To be more direct about it, it was rude, thoughtless, un-christian-like (in some circles), inhumane, mean-spirited, bigoted, ignorant, discriminatory, hateful, shameful, and delusional, just to name a few.
@David Hawkins: Appreciate your sympathy. That comment was supposed to be so ridiculous as to come off as funny, rather than rude, thoughtless, etc etc etc (by the way, i thought the 'delusional' tag was harsh, but never mind). I know it's hard to find humour when talking about something dark like this, and not everybody finds the same things funny -- please allow me the opportunity to apologise to the group: "Sorry guys, and girls if there are any here."

You're right about the other questions that suicide raises. Lots of things could be considered slow suicide, even some of the more extreme sports might be considered 'suicide by chance' -- i'm gonna do this, and if I die, then so be it.

However, surely there's a balance to be found. I've heard it said that being in excellent health is simply the slowest possible rate at which one can die. I've also heard it said that nobody is ready to start truly living until they are ready to die. The absolute inevitability of death is the factor which forces the issue, i suppose. Since we can't run from it forever, then maybe by shedding our fear of it we can live a fuller life, occaisionally brushing a little closer to it then many people find comfortable?
@Dave Charles Findly
No problem Dave. I"m big enough to find the humor in it now that you explained it as such. As for my delusional comments, I have lots of delusional friends and under the auspices of epistemology I have to accept that I may be delusional too. Just don't tell James I said that. LOL

Helping people deal with death, in my experience, has been religion's biggest contribution and comfort. Despite my inability to accept religion by my own reason I do often find myself wishing some of it were true, especially the afterlife as a place to meet the loved ones who are no longer here on earth.

I definitely agree that a personal balance with it is important and also that a person's metaphysics and ontology provide the background for finding that balance.

My parents both have a living will with DNR orders as do my aunts and uncles after my Grandfather died and seeded the idea. My grandfather was in his 90's and I believe he found his balance with it too electing to have some pretty risky surgery for his age with the sincere hopes of an improvement in his health. But he also made it clear he was prepared for death but wasn't wishing to hasten it. But his strong sense of independence and not wishing to be a burden to others, financially or otherwise, by keeping him alive longer than he thought reasonable helped to keep his dignity in tact in spite of the debilitation of old age. So, sad as it was his wishes were honored and no extraordinary efforts were made to keep him alive.

In my own views knowing what I will one day face with my own parents my views have helped me spend more quality time with them while I still can and I am grateful for every moment.

There are times that seem more obvious than others that euthanasia is justified or not. Today people are able to live long, healthy, and productive lives with physical defects that would have doomed them in the past either out of necessity (ancient past), or under some heinous human eugenics program of the more recent past.

I myself recently faced acute appendicitis and was glad to be living in modern times. Thinking If I had lived in the not to distant past, I wondered how I would deal with my own end, by hastening it or trying to brave through the pain and let it happen on its own. I have a pretty strong will to live and would have probably fought to the end, butI haven't really resolved that one yet.
Haha, I love it. Once we bring in epistemology, there is the possibility that we are all delusional. I may be strapped to a bed in some scientific research institute, and this forum, the computer i'm typing on, the room i'm sitting in, and you that i'm replying to, it all could be an invention of my imagination ... OR, I could be an invention of yours. Will would call it a 'self-sealing argument': can neither be proved nor disproved and is therefore irrelevant. Maybe that's a topic for another post, though ... Perhaps I've watched the Matrix too many times and now wonder if I may be in one ...
It should be the the complete responsibility of the individual to terminate their own lives. If you cannot facilitate termination on your own, responsibility for your survival within reasonable limits becomes transfered to another person. Putting that in the hands of the state or the medical sector would obviously corrupt the hippocratic oath which could possibly further deteriorate our healthcare standardsfor everyone else.
If healthcare professionals should not be responsible for those who are no longer capable to terminate their lives but have legitimate reason to wish to, who should we designate to help them? Should it be healthcare unprofessionals, or non-healthcare unprofessionals, or non-healthcare professionals?

We seem to have no problem assuming, actually requiring, healthcare professionals to have some responsibility toward their patients. Why would the consensual responsibility for terminating life be disallowed when death is the only guaranteed part of the bargain of living a life?

Predicting the further deterioration of healthcare standards for everyone else by allowing healthcare professionals to perform or assist to perform euthanasia is a slippery slope fallacy.

As far as the hippocratic oath goes, put these 3 related principles from the 2001 AMA Code of medical Ethics through your forge:

A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.
A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient.
A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.

In my observation the specific wording of the Hippocratic oath has been modified considerably over its history which means it can and probably will be revised again many times. It seems clear there is room for contradictory interpretation especially in regard to respect for human dignity and rights, and regarding responsibility to the patient as paramount. And it seems clear to me that physicians are encouraged to request changes in the law that benefit their patients and some of those laws could be assisted suicide.

If requiring from each individual 100% responsibility for terminating their own life, then why does requiring from each individual 100% responsibility for continuing their own life, without any help from others, seem unethical, or at the least unnecessary?

In the end I can only reduce it to the golden rule and say if I can imagine a time when I might wish for and receive help of this sort, that I should allow others to wish for and receive it too.

Something else to think about is the statement often heard over a death, "Oh, well, they are in a much better place now." At what point in the deceased life did death become the better option? Could it have been a minute before their actual death? How about an hour, or a day, or a week? If so, why didn't anyone do anything sooner? Those who would argue against euthanasia to end terminal suffering must never say that statement because they would be lying.
I imagine that state regulated suicide warrants would follow a set of standards to ensure that patients? meet some psychological and physical criteria to be deemed suitable for assisted suicide. Is the patient of a sound mental state in their petition for assisted suicide? Can the executors prove that someone is of sound mind in their petitioning for suicide? Doesn't requesting suicide preclude being of sound mind? So do we allow the lunatics to begin running the asylum?

Suicide is for the greater part a psychological defect. Anything outside of natural causes or accidental death that cuts off or reduces our biological obligations is defective. Anything that preserves that or extends it is effecient.

No offense meant but on the lighter side...Imagine watching a hamster kill itself in its cage. It just can't take being caged any longer. You would be thinking "This hamster is ----ing nuts! What the hell is it doing?" Now imagine the same hamster being assisted in killing itself by another hamster. You would be thinking "There is definately something wrong with these here hamsters! They are doubly nuts!"
I dunno, I had two gerbils at one time. One of them got sick and was eaten by the other. I am forced to assume it was done without mutual consent though.

So just when are we allowed to die?

Yes, there will be issues in judging who would qualify. There are going to be obvious nut jobs that would be denied, gray area people that would be harder to judge and thus probably also deny, but also some people with a pretty legitimate reason who would be approved. And of course the people that currently have DNR orders in a living will.
It seems I have to take a rather unpopular stance here. I am as a matter of fact 100% in favor of Euthanasia. I believe that a person's life is their own. While I personally wouldn't opt for the choice to end my own life under circumstances I can think of, I firmly believe that anyone has the right to end their own life at any time, or have someone else assist them if they are not capable of doing their job on their own. With all due respect to the opinions of others, I firmly believe that assuming there is a God (which I most definitely do) that it would be impossible to do anything which would go against the will of God, or to wrong God in any way, as God is all powerful, and if He did not wish me to kill myself I would find myself unable or unwilling to do so. I couldn't see myself requesting euthanasia or of committing suicide, but personally believe anyone has the right to do so at any time.





On, a different note, epistemically speaking Mr. Findlay, it would impossible for you to be a figment of someone else's imagination and to be convinced that it is a possibility.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/phi/desc/med.txt

See meditation II

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