The Euthanasia of Human Beings is Unethical – Unethical

Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines “euthanasia” as the deliberate ending of the life of a person suffering from an incurable and painful disease.  Perhaps more accurately described in the case of human beings as physician-assisted suicide, the process of euthanasia in most countries around the world remained the sole province of veterinarians treating non-humans (an entirely different case in terms of ethics in my opinion) during most of the nineteenth century.

Many very solid arguments suggest that euthanasia—especially in the modern era—enjoys no place whatsoever in a medical practice treating human patients.  Most of these reasons concern ethical and spiritual considerations, but at least two practical rationales exist as well.

Overview: a brief history of physician assisted suicide

During the nineteenth century, some Nazi psychologists argued that for “hygienic” reasons, German society should terminate the lives of some residents of homes for the developmentally disabled and the insane.  At first the Nazi regime used sterilization, but later broadened the scope of its activities.

The Hitler regime commenced a series of mass murders during 1939 in secret with the approval of overseeing psychologists. The program snuffed out the lives of numerous disabled children and adults in Germany who had been hospitalized in asylums.  It operated as a forerunner of sorts to the later establishment of work camps and death camps which carried out large scale genocide against Europe’s Jewish population.

Nazis claimed that the murders of the residents of hospitals in 1939, euphemistically termed a “euthanasia” program, relieved the rest of society of the costs of supporting a presumably nonproductive population. Nazi officials at first often lied to parents and relatives of the victims about the actual cause of death of their loved ones;only after the war ended did many families discover the truth of what occurred.

Switzerland, a nation which remained officially neutral during World War II (but which harbored some Nazi sympathizers during the conflict), since 1941 reportedly has allowed both physician and non-physician assisted voluntary “euthanasia” as a matter of law.  For decades, Switzerland remained the only nation to do so.

More recently, three additional jurisdictions in Europe and North America passed measures permitting so-called “euthanasia” of terminally ill patients on a voluntary basis upon a patient’s consent and with the approval of two attending doctors.  These statutes represent legal anomalies, not the norm.

Ethical arguments against euthanasia

Numerous ethical arguments suggest that euthanasia of human beings deserves global prohibition by lawmakers.  The following section includes just a few of them:

First, even if medically trained individuals oversee the procedure, there remains no guarantee that the patient whose life ends has genuinely consented to the process.  Very ill patients may find themselves in irrational and highly emotional states.  They may not address personal issues candidly with their physicians or themselves.

Second, not all very sick patients can express themselves or their wishes clearly.  The existence of a “euthanasia” procedure might blur the line between voluntary and involuntary demise in unfortunate ways.  By flatly prohibiting homicide, society draws a clear ethical demarcation for proper and improper conduct.

Third, sometimes even patients diagnosed as terminal recover or live much longer than expected.  On occasion medical breakthroughs occur which dramatically alter the chances of a patient enjoying a longer life span than previously predicted.  Some individuals considered terminally ill by doctors eventually recover.   

Yet by asking a physician to consent to performing euthanasia, a patient in one sense places a terrible burden upon the doctor who has pledged to heal and alleviate suffering. 

Fourth, a spiritual argument exists that physician assisted suicide deprives a patient of the opportunity to explore the process of illness and dying in a natural way.  For example, Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, Verse 1 promises: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” 

Many additional ethical and spiritual concerns argue against the euthanasia of people.  But so do a few  practical mundane considerations:

First practical consideration: upholding the paramount value of human life

First, one can envision a hypothetical situation in which healthy people worried about ongoing medical expenses might indirectly, and without seeking to do so, pressure a patient to consider euthanasia.  In ethical terms, a life far outweighs dollars and cents.  Yet in all likelihood, subtle influences to consider euthanasia would fall squarely upon less affluent households.

There are already many socioeconomic inequalities in human societies around the world today.  Do we really need to add more of them?

For example, does a premature baby deserve to have his or her life terminated because the parents cannot afford intensive care? Just consider current British laws about preemies for instance…whether physicians can give medical care in some facilities reportedly depends on weight.   

The existence of euthanasia as a legal option in some cases would seemingly open the door to potential societal trends which a flat prohibition against physician assisted suicide and homicide clearly keep shut.  That doorway ought to remain closed! 

Second practical consideration: better options already exist

Today, medical advances have provided far more powerful tools for physicians to use to control the sometimes severe pain of terminally ill patients.  While protocols may require reform in some places to make these new technologies more widely available to suffering individuals, the fact remains that medicine has progressed very far since 1941.

With options available to alleviate the pain of the suffering, and advances in palliative care, justification really does not exist for engaging in the euthanasia of human beings.

In conclusion

So, for a number of reasons, a case exists that the few jurisdictions which have enacted laws allowing euthanasia of people should really consider reform.  By repealing these provisions, they would send a powerful message to the public that the lives of all human beings matter.