Life’s sanctity and value visibly present the arguments against and supportive of euthanasia. Fewer topics are more controversial or complex due to physicians’ ethical dilemmas when conducting assisted suicide. Moreover, several countries have legal constraints preventing them from avoiding abuse of the practice or setting a precedent for future cases. Euthanasia is financially and psychologically beneficial to terminally ill patients because it normalizes death in society; however, physicians and patients easily abuse it when analyzed from a bioethical perspective.
Euthanasia lacks an argumentative consensus, and its practical application varies globally. According to Fontalis et al. (2018), euthanasia defines the act of intentionally taking one’s life and occurs by either physician-assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia. The former requires the provision of self-administered drugs by a qualified medical person, while the latter utilizes a third-party individual intentionally ending a patient’s life. The intent is crucial in determining the legitimacy of assisted-dying efforts; thus, voluntary and competent consent define the euthanasia process.
Despite its controversial nature, there are several strong arguments in support of euthanasia. One, it provides financially disadvantaged patients with a way to minimize the burden on their families (Fontalis et al., 2018). Palliative care is expensive, and the resources to maintain terminally ill patients are highly demanding. Legalizing the practice allows patients to negate the financial constraints they may place on their loved ones. Second, the patient psychologically benefits by regaining the ability to control how and when their life will end. Being bed-ridden or terminally ill robs patients of the capability to make vital personal decisions about their life. Accessing assisted suicide puts them back in control by empowering their self-esteem.
Bioethics is a philosophical branch dealing primarily with questions and dilemmas surrounding biomedicine and health-related life sciences. The philosophy has several principles: autonomy, justice, non-maleficence, and beneficence. Fontalis et al. (2018) describe autonomy as one’s ability to make informed and competent choices; the authors stress this principle due to its fragility and ease of abuse. Individualized autonomy is a mode of self-expression and falls largely under John Stuart Mill’s description. In contrast, principled autonomy functions on obligation by offering a behavioral comparison point to the rest of society. Medical professionals must offer their patients all the requisite information regarding euthanasia before seeking consent.
Whereas euthanasia is becoming acceptable with time, cultural norms and moral arguments compromise its perception. The right to life is a primarily religious and moral argument that defines the most prominent idea related to assisted suicide and dying. Each human’s life is precious under the law despite their health or desires on the subject; therefore, protecting its sanctity is paramount. Life is a divine gift from God, and acting to end it is equivalent to sin. The decision to give and take life belongs to a higher power, mainly because practical applications of euthanasia do not balance the patient’s autonomy against the right to life (Fontalis et al., 2018). In addition, assisted suicide ignores the doctor’s responsibilities and fails to meet the requirements of principled autonomy. Physicians and caregivers have ethical and moral beliefs that might go against the patient’s desires. Imposing assisted dying practices on them violates their autonomy and freedom. Therefore, euthanasia is immoral because it fails to account for the regulations medical professionals are under or the consequences they will suffer after conducting the practice.
Moreover, the precedent euthanasia sets violate biomedicine’s justice principle by creating a slippery slope that encourages people to choose death over treatment. Eventually, society may develop an attitude firmly against suffering in life and thus decide to eliminate terminally ill individuals due to their interdependency. This stance forces patients into assisted suicide without their will and mainly targets the vulnerable and elderly. Fontalis et al. (2018) elaborate that the growth in assisted suicide numbers in Holland and Oregon proves the slippery-slope argument. Indeed, whereas Holland had 1882 cases in 2002, the number increased to 5306 by 2014, lending credence to the justice principle of bioethics (Fontalis et al., 2018). Additionally, studies from Oregon, one of the first American states to legalize assisted dying, reveal that it favors people in higher socioeconomic classes. The law safeguards the innocent; however, euthanasia ultimately creates a society that takes advantage of vulnerable people, thus violating their rights.
The latter principles of bioethics regard non-maleficence and beneficence and target the physician’s behavior and intent. In the Hippocratic Oath, non-maleficence is not harming one’s patient, whereas beneficence insists that a doctor’s actions should be in the patient’s best interests (Fontalis et al., 2018). In practice, the two principles conflict precisely because of the profession’s public perception. The patient’s desires regarding euthanasia are ultimately self-harming, violating the non-maleficence principle; however, assisting the patient in committing the act is in the best interests. Indeed, most doctors lack training in euthanasia or assisted dying in medical school, which leaves them emotionally and psychologically unprepared to administer it in the field. Beneficent treatment is paramount to healthcare, and a doctor may intervene in a suicidal patient’s life, but the argument fails when applied to assisted suicide cases.
Mental health patients present difficulty when analyzing euthanasia under the principles of biomedicine. Alleviating suffering is a cornerstone of conducting assisted suicide; nonetheless, illnesses such as depression are mental and undetectable on a scan. Thus, it is impossible to gauge the extent of a patient’s suffering. Holland noted 41 mentally ill cases who requested assisted suicide, and it would be cruel to deny them access to assisted dying services (Fontalis et al., 2018). However, the progression and increase of euthanasia puts mentally challenged patients at risk of unjust death without consent or having met the requisite pain threshold. Moreover, forcing a patient to live because of the inability to determine mental health compromises what is best for the patient. Since each case is unique, they ultimately present the caregiver with social, legal, and emotional challenges.
In conclusion, euthanasia benefits terminally ill patients by providing a painless way to end suffering. However, the practice is highly controversial, and the arguments against it are rooted in religious and philosophical debates. The sanctity of life is essential, and its value does not decrease because a patient is terminally ill. Moreover, assisted dying sets a precedent that encourages people to commit suicide instead of seeking medication. Case analyses from Oregon and Holland prove the ever-increasing abuse of assisted dying. The practice violates the principles of justice, non-maleficence, beneficence, and autonomy of biomedicine. It fails to account for mentally ill patients and how to gauge their pain threshold, in addition to violating the physician’s ethical and moral framework. Legal and social safeguards are required to minimize the abuse of euthanasia and assisted suicide practices.
Fontalis, A., Prousali, E., & Kulkarni, K. (2018). Euthanasia and assisted dying: What is the current position and what are the key arguments informing the debate? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 111(11), 407–413.