Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending another person’s life in order to relieve their pain, particularly when they are suffering from a terminal illness. In many works of literature, euthanasia is referred to as “mercy killing.” The debate between quality and quantity of life has raged on for a long time (Harris 2001, p.367). Because of their differing interpretations of the autonomous principles of Hippocratic ethics, countries such as the Netherlands have legalized euthanasia. Euthanasia, on the other hand, is regarded as murder in many other countries. Euthanasia is not permissible under any basis or scenario based on medical ethics and the sanctity of life, according to this paper. The autonomy principle holds that every person has a right of determining their own medical course and plans. Therefore, medical practitioners are expected to respect desires and wishes expressed by the patients concerning their own health. Many physicians remain in a dilemma related to this principle especially when the patient has decided to forego life and choose death. Killing either merciful or otherwise is unethical and hence euthanasia must be avoided by all means. The autonomy principle by itself does not give the patients the right to choose unconditionally. For patients to exercise this right, they must be acting with a stable state of mind and fully understand their situation. Therefore, when patients request for euthanasia at their vulnerable state, it cannot be determined whether the decision to end their life is made with a clear frame of mind. Medical practitioners cannot, therefore, hide behind the autonomy principle in law and morality to justify euthanasia (Materstvedt 2003, p.391).
If this exercise is allowed, many physicians will end up killing patients claiming that it is a mercy killing even if it is crime related. Giving medical practitioners this leeway will effectively be shifting their responsibility of accountability towards patients, as they will hide behind euthanasia even when their actions are negligent. Euthanasia encourages criminal acts and destroys the ethical standards of physicians. If euthanasia was to be allowed, it might not be clear whether it is the actual wish of the patient, and such vagueness may breed malicious intentions from physicians. A decision maker may choose to die because of the pains and suffering they go through, but allowing euthanasia will only create a shortcut for physicians which will lead to their reluctance of coming up with better alternative ways of alleviating such pain. There may be better solutions one can search for instead of euthanasia. Euthanasia does not encourage a patient’s autonomy, but rather removes it in totality once the patient passes on (Hyde 2001, p.106).
The principle of beneficence proposes that individual should act in the best interest of others to improve their state and welfare. Physicians should always think of things that are beneficial to the patient and improve his/her health. Beneficence encourages individuals to do something extra and even sacrifice for others. Medical practitioners, therefore, assume the role of an advocate for the patients under their care. Even if a patient expressly asks for euthanasia due to pain, medical practitioners should understand that such an action is not in the best interest of the patient. The action may sometimes be a symptom of the disease itself. Palliative comes here as a way of easing the pain and suffering of an individual through intensive care. Administering palliative care is, therefore, the best course of action when the patient’s interests are put forward. Palliative care is a way of doing something extra for the benefit of the ill person. Research suggests that the physical pain is contributed by factors such as psychological, spiritual, social and existential. Palliative care should address such factors to alleviate pain and euthanasia should not be an option (Harris 2001, p.369).
Patients who ask for euthanasia often do it because they feel as if they are a burden since they have to be dependent upon their families and friends during their sickness. Such dependence is often strenuous mentally, socially, and financially. This situation may make the patient feel undignified and get distressed. Such feelings lead to hopelessness and vulnerability. In this condition, a patient may feel that ending their life would be the best cause of action for them and for those they depend upon. This perception prompts them to give euthanasia requests to the physicians attending them. Confronted with this situation, a physician must understand that serving the best interest of the patient is not fulfilling their desire to be killed. It is ethically impossible to judge whose life is worth living and whose should be ended. Medical practitioners should only serve the best interest of the patient as society has entrusted them. Administering euthanasia will undermine the trust that society has towards the medical profession (Angell 2005, p.256).
The non-maleficence principle provides that all procedures done towards a patient should not harm them or others in the society. Any procedures involving the ending of life of the patient for any reason should not be allowed for many reasons in accordance with the non-maleficence principle. Form a moral perspective, euthanasia has both the patient involved. Furthermore, no individual is completely autonomous which means that the decision to end their life will bring pain and suffering to their loved ones (Materstvedt 2003, p.390). Euthanasia fails the legal moral and ethical tests because it is seen as a too drastic measure of attempting to end a person’s pain. It only causes irreversible damage through the death of the patient. Human life is sacred, and therefore medical practitioners have no authority to decide who lives and who dies.
Medical practitioners usually take a Hippocratic Oath upon their qualifications to begin their practice. Administering euthanasia is not among the roles of physicians, and neither is it allowed as per the Hippocratic Oath. The non-maleficence principle means that medical practitioners make an unconditional oath towards the society not to bring harm to the society. Intentionally ending the life of another is tantamount to breaking this oath. Physicians in their practice must understand the boundaries of their roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, they should have a set of ethical values that are in line with the medical profession. As opposed to causing permanent harm to patients by killing them, physicians ought to continue healing them by providing physical and emotional comfort (Harris 2001, p.368).
The principle of justice means that medical procedures must uphold the letter and spirit of existing laws. All the actions conducted by medical practitioners must be in strict conformity with the existing laws in the respective jurisdictions. In many jurisdictions, euthanasia is often characterized as murder. It is the duty of the state to protect and preserve human life. Therefore, regardless of a person’s physical or mental state, the law protects their right to live unconditionally. The sick in their vulnerable state is therefore accorded the same rights as anyone else (Clery, McLean & Phillips 2007, p.126).
In accordance with the law, the request for euthanasia by a patient must never be interpreted as a right of self-determination. The right of autonomy is premised on the assumption that an individual is rational, competent and mentally stable to make own decisions. A patient who requests for euthanasia is therefore not seen as being rational in the eyes of the law. A request for one’s life to be taken away is a clear sign of desperation and hopelessness which alters the rational mental state. A physician who purports to follow a patient’s instructions in administering euthanasia is therefore guilty of murder from a justice perspective (Hyde 2001, p.108).
As observed, euthanasia is against all the medical ethics as well as the Hippocratic Oath taken by medical practitioners. It is not justifiable morally or legally under any circumstances. The society often holds a high level of trust towards physicians as care givers who protect life and offer comfort. Administering euthanasia is a direct contravention of this oath and may damage the trust and perceptions of the society towards the medical profession (Angell 2005, p.256).
Angell, M. and Angell, M., 2005. The truth about the drug companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Clery, E., McLean, S. and Phillips, M., 2007. Quickening death: the euthanasia debate.
Harris, N.M., 2001. The euthanasia debate. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 147(3), pp.367-370.
Hyde, M.J., 2001. The call of conscience: Heidegger and Levinas, rhetoric and the euthanasia debate. Univ of South Carolina Press.
Materstvedt, L.J., 2003. The Euthanasia Debate Palliative care on the’slippery slope’towards euthanasia?. Palliative medicine, 17(5), pp.387-392.