Disclaimer: This article may be triggering for some readers as it covers sensitive topics related to suicide, mental illness, and death.
Euthanasia, which is also known as "assisted suicide", is the practice of painlessly ending a patient's life who is suffering from an incurable and painful disease, and has created a lot of public controversy. The debate on whether or not euthanasia should be legalised has been long withstanding, with only 7 countries having decriminalised the procedure and several arguments as to its ethics and morality.
Before we get into the arguments in favour and against this practice, it is important to understand the different categories that euthanasia can fall into and what their implications are. For example, euthanasia can be categorised as voluntary (when a patient's consent is needed), non-voluntary (when a patient's consent is unavailable such as child euthanasia), or involuntary (conducted against the patient's will). Involuntary euthanasia is usually considered murder, therefore it will not be considered in the arguments present in this article. Euthanasia can also be either passive, which involves withholding certain treatments necessary for the continuation of life, or active, which entails the use of lethal substances or forces to end a patient's life.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF LEGALISATION OF EUTHANASIA:
Among the many arguments given by proponents of euthanasia, perhaps the most common is that people have a right to self-determination, and thus should be allowed to choose their own fate. In the series of human rights determined by the UN Human Rights Council, it is implied that humans have a right to die, just as they have a right to live. While death is the opposite of life, dying is a part of life itself. Speaking from a more libertarian standpoint, death can be considered a private matter and therefore, if there is no harm being done to others, the state and other people have no right to interfere. "In cases where there are no dependents who might exert pressure one way or the other, the right of the individual to choose should be paramount. So long as the patient is lucid, and his or her intent is clear beyond doubt, there need be no further questions"-The Independent, March 2002.
Take the case of Daniel Eduardo Ostropolsky. Ostropolsky, an Argentine lawyer, was diagnosed in 2017 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which is a progressive, terminal neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The feeling of suffocation one feels when dealing with ALS, which Ostropolsky describes as unable to be calmed by any device or operation of nature, is one among many of the perpetual pains felt by patients that suffer from it. "We are sentenced to death… in life," he writes. Ostropolsky believes strongly in the legalisation of euthanasia, and believes that the lack of such a law is an offence to the human condition, since himself along with many others with serious incurable diseases will be reduced to states of permanent pain with no hope of relief or improvement.
People should have the right to control their own body and their own life, and as such should be able to determine the way in which they die. Behind this argument lies the idea that human beings, independent biological entities, should be as free as possible, and that unnecessary restraints on human rights are detrimental to society. The right to life gives a person the right not to be killed if they don't want to be. Those in favour of euthanasia will argue that respect for this right not to be killed is sufficient to protect against misuse of euthanasia, as any doctor who kills a patient who doesn't want to die has violated that person's rights. Furthermore, the law states that patients have a right to refuse medical care, including medical treatment that sustains or prolongs life. Recognizing this right to refuse treatment gives a way for passive euthanasia.
Moreover, permitting euthanasia will not necessarily lead to unacceptable consequences. Pro-euthanasia activists often point to countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, and states like Oregon, where euthanasia has been legalised, to argue that it is mostly unproblematic.
It is also important to take into account something called the caregiver's burden, which is the strain felt by a person who is caring for a chronically ill or disabled person or family member. Some argue that people who have debilitating conditions should be allowed to die in dignity, instead of prolonging the time they spend living and suffering. This argument is further defended by the family members or caretakers of those who have chronic debilitating illness even though they are not terminal such as severe mental illness. The caregiver’s burden is huge and affects the victims in various aspects of their life financially, emotionally, physically, mentally and socially. Examples of such disruptions may include the increased amount of time that caretaker's take out of their personal lives for the care receiver, or the amount of money spent to provide such care.
Furthermore, euthanasia is a procedure that can be regulated, and in countries/states where this is legal, patients must meet certain criteria to be eligible. Such criteria include being an adult, resident of the state where it is legal, mentally capable, able to self-administer and ingest the medications, and having a terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of six months or less to live. Some argue that since we have these criteria in place as necessary regulations for euthanasia, there is no reason as to why it shouldn't be allowed to happen. And that brings us to the anti-euthanasia arguments.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST LEGALISATION OF EUTHANASIA:
Ethical concerns are among the most popular when discussing anti-euthanasia arguments. For instance, it is to many people's belief that euthanasia weakens society's respect for the sanctity of life, and accepting euthanasia accepts that some lives (those of the disabled or sick) are worth less than others. Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a "slippery slope" that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought to be undesirable.
In practicality, many believe that allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives and legalising this procedure can lead to many being discouraged to conduct research and trials to cure terminal diseases. To become a doctor, a person must take the Hippocratic Oath, which is an oath of ethics that consists of a promise: "Do no harm". Euthanasia is considered by many to go against this promise, and proper palliative care makes it unnecessary. Moreover, euthanasia is thought to become a cost-effective way to treat the terminally ill if allowed and undermines the motivation to provide good care and relief for the dying.
Religion is also widely involved in the debate on euthanasia, since those who believe in God believe it is against his will. Religious people believe God has given us free will, hence why they don't argue that people can't kill themselves, or get others to do it for us. Their argument is in fact that it would be wrong for people to kill themselves as it is to their belief that every human being is the creation of God, and this imposes certain limits on us as independent human beings. To kill oneself, or to get someone else to do it for us, is an act that denies God, and to deny God's rights over our lives and his right to choose the length of our lives and the way our lives end.
Many are concerned with the fact that, in places where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, there has been abuse of this law. It is near impossible to establish strict enough guidelines to limit the persons who receive euthanasia. There are several documented cases of abuse in countries/states where euthanasia is legal. For example, in Belgium, deaf twins requested euthanasia and received it because they became blind. In Oregon, United States, a woman received a letter from her insurance company that refused to pay for her chemotherapy, but offered assisted suicide instead.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that euthanasia is a highly controversial topic, and there are valid arguments for both sides of the debate on its legalisation.