One of the few certainties of life is death, but in the twentieth century it is still a taboo subject. The “forbidden” nature of death adds to the unnamed fears and worries that most people feel when asked to confront the idea of their own death. Yet once people can overcome their reluctance to discuss the subject, most often what is revealed is not the fear of death itself, but the manner of dying. The difficulty of thinking about “death with dignity” is that it implies that one day you, or someone you love, may be in a position to want that choice. Even if someone wanted to choose euthanasia as a way to end their existence, their wish may not be carried out, unless they live in the state of Oregon, or the Netherlands, where Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is protected under law. I believe that the laws in most western nations that state euthanasia is illegal should be changed and the legalization of euthanasia, under certain restrictions, should be mandated throughout areas where the majority wishes to have the freedom to choose their method of dying.
The word euthanasia itself is a Greek word meaning “good death”. However, during World War II, what was once intended to be a kind and gentle end to a full life received a negative connotation as a result under the pretense of “research and experiments” carried out by Nazi doctors to cover up their systematic attempt at racial and ethnic genocide.
Some people fear that if euthanasia were legalized, that, in the words of Dr. James Dobsen, “We will eventually be killing those who aren’t sick, those who don’t ask to die, those who are young and depressed, those who someone considers to have a poor quality of life, and those who feel it is their obligation to ‘get out of the way‘.” When aid-in-dying is legalized, lines will be drawn between individual rights and public safety and public laws will set legal anchors to insure against slides down Dr. Dobsen’s proposed “slippery slope”. Judge Reinhardt, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, addressed the “slippery slope” argument:
This same nihilistic argument can be offered against any constitutionally-protected right or interest. Both before and after women were found to have a right to have an abortion, critics contended that legalizing that medical procedure would lead to its widespread use as a substitute for other forms of birth control or as a means of racial genocide.
Recognition of any right creates the possibility of abuse. The slippery slope fears the opponents of Roe v. Wade have, of course, not materialized. The legalization of abortion has not undermined our commitment to life generally; nor, as some predicted, has it led to widespread infanticide. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that legalizing assisted suicide with parameters will lead to the horrific consequences its opponents imply and suggest.
There is another argument the Judeo-Christian society exploits against the freedom to choose one’s destiny: God’s will. Those of this religious background argue that life is a gift from God and is thus only to be taken by God. Any intervention to end a human’s life by means of suicide is not only committing murder, but also “playing God“. This is the same argument that was used against surgery only a hundred years ago. Is open-heart surgery “playing God”? Is using artificial birth control or getting a blood transfusion “playing God” or God’s will?
From an impartial perspective, one would gather that these religious denominations use the Will of their God to justify their extreme positions of promoting life with disregard to the individual’s rights to life they are trying to control. Through their blind acceptance, they reject hat their God of Life is also God of Death, and that the reluctance to accept dying as part of life borders on hypocrisy!
Nancy Cruzan was a 32-year old Missouri woman who was in a persistent vegetative state for seven years after being in a severe auto accident. Her parents fought all the way up to the Supreme Court to finally win permission to shut off her artificial nutrition and hydration. When the day came to take her off artificial life support, nineteen people stormed the facility to try to put the tubes back in. They were arrested and placed in jail. Now that’s “playing God”!
Also, the religiously inclined extend their beliefs on others when they argue that God’s will is not being fulfilled through euthanasia. Should people belonging to different faiths follow the perceived “will of God” assertion of a different religion? Should the personal beliefs of the religious decide public policy for all adults, including religious liberals, Humanists, Atheists, or Agnostics? In the Declaration of Independence, it states “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . .” Under these basic principles under which our country was founded, any free citizen has the right to determine their own fate. But a person who is terminally ill, in a hospital setting, or is disabled may not be able to exercise their “God-given” rights. A competent, terminally ill adult, having lived nearly the full measure of his life, has a strong liberty interest in choosing a dignified and humane death rather than being reduced at the end of his existence to a child-like state of helplessness, diapered, sedated, and incompetent.
Another reason this violation of human rights is often not recognized is the gradual nature of the increasing power of medical technology to maintain a semblance of life longer and longer. We are so pleased with great medical advances that we overlook their misuse and their painful side effects. There are conditions such as cancer, strokes, acute arthritis, and more recently AIDS, to name a few, where all the medical skills in the world aren’t enough for a particular individual case. If that person, after undergoing all possible treatment, still feels enough is enough, they should have the right to be helped to die.
There are also many of those who, having lost their independence and a sense of self-determination, feel that withholding the option of euthanasia, causes an unacceptable loss of personal dignity. They believe that their quality of life is nonexistent, and, therefore, see no benefits in draining money for their unending care from either their loved ones or their care provider. In an age when total medical funding is restricted and being continually reduced, is it ethical to engage in extremely expensive treatment of terminally ill people in order to extend their lives by a few weeks, if it is against their will? The resources used in this way are not available for prenatal care, infant care, etc. where it would save lives and significantly improve the long-term quality of life for others. As callous as it may seem, there are also financial benefits for people that could use the money in better ways than to use it to go against the wishes of the dying.
Acceptance of death often leads to an increased quality of the life the terminally ill has remaining. A terminally ill person lives better knowing that he may gain control over the physical pain, the psychological agony and the financial devastation of dying.
Terminally ill persons who have had control over their living expect to have control over their dying. They are being denied this last choice. The denial to fulfill their wishes is not yet well recognized as being a violation of human rights. This may be because the motive is good. The general idea of preserving life is good, but carrying it out to an extreme is not. Following one’s religion is good, but imposing it on another is not. Each person has autonomy over his life. Persons whose quality of life is nonexistent should have the right to decide to commit suicide, and to seek assistance if necessary. To deny a person control over his or her own life is immoral. It is an abuse of human rights, and should be illegal.