The Ongoing Historical Debate Of Euthanasia The word euthanasia originates from two Greek words, meaning “good death”. In the most natural state, euthanasia defines a death positively sought after for mankind, in the act of dying and ultimately death. Unfortunately, the term historically and currently leads to debate and manipulation to insinuate a criminal act. World civilizations must remember the crimes of the past, and fear misplaced power as currently occurring in Darfur, however, the horror of genocide does not belong in the euthanasia debate.
The arguments originate from cultural, religious and social values and dictate as well as interfere with the ability to experience a “good death”. For decades, the world has been experiencing a battle between the advocates and opponents of legalizing euthanasia. While the Euthanasia Act released November 2011 by the Royal Dutch Medical Association outlined new guidelines, there are histories and past cases that need to be studied to fully understand possible implications.
The legalization of assisted suicide has increased debate regarding a slippery slope effect due to a turbulent history and the misguided dogma that it will lead to involuntary euthanasia. Historically, the ongoing controversy regarding the slippery slope effect and its pertinence to those who are curable, have surrounded euthanasia placing the experience of dying with dignity, for the terminally ill in jeopardy. An article titled, The Unleashing of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value, categorizes people who are to be eliminated.
The book written by two Germans in 1920, Carl Binding, a doctor of jurisprudence and philosophy, and Alfred Hoche, a medical doctor, labeled burdensome people as “incurable idiots, mere caricatures of true men whose death create no vacuum. ” The book and its contentions are later exemplified, by both the defense and offense, as the origin for condoning the genocidal Holocaust of Nazi Germany in the late 1940’s. Consequently, Nazi Germany proclaimed that the origins of humane euthanasia began prior to Nazi terrorism.
Advancements in knowledge and strict guidelines have increased since the early 1900’s; therefore history will not repeat itself, and the original intent of euthanasia can be realized devoid of a slippery slope effect. Slippery Slope arguments have been on the forefront in the euthanasia decriminalization debate since the 1930’s. In the 1930’s, a prophesized slippery slope included the potential for a lack of medical advances to discover a cure for incurable diseases. The medical doctor pledges the Hippocratic Oath to protect and prolong life, but also to relieve suffering.
Slippery slope controversies are based on the supposition that despite the fact the law mandates restrictions, parameters will be blurred based upon human nature. The concerns should be navigated and acknowledged, but not dictate the fear of change. Controversies surround the act of dying. Currently, medical development in technology has been increasingly successful in the treatment to prolong life and perpetually relieve pain. The question arises concerning the patient’s rights in making life-sustaining decisions.
Public support of painless euthanasia for the terminally ill has increased dramatically. A survey conducted by Blendon and colleagues illustrated that 34 percent in 1950 were in favor, 53 percent in 1973 and 63 percent in 1991. The contemporary issue of assisted suicide exposes deep historical roots by Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. The philosophers maintained favor of merciful death, yet condemned murder and suicide. While Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras historically acknowledged support of euthanasia in the advent of a painful terminal disease, all condemned suicide for other reasons.
A branch of Ancient Greece, the Stoics and Roman Philosophy, also accepted euthanasia when pain from a terminal illness became intolerable. However, the initial reign of Christianity in the Roman Empire dramatically altered these views and judged euthanasia intolerable, based upon the Sixth Commandment of, “Thou shalt not kill”. Saint Augustine’s religious belief dictated that the suffering of an individual as pre- ordained by God and to deny that divine power as an unpardonable sin.
The Renaissance period, following the fourteenth century, experienced a softening of belief, the Catholic saint, Sir Thomas More, advocated voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill. He published, in Utopia, during 1516 that euthanasia as defined for the terminally ill would be a reality in an ideal society. Up until the end of the 1800’s and during the early 1900’s, physicians considered the discussion of euthanasia as a viable option for painful, terminal illness. Not until the advent and repercussions of Nazi Germany, Hitler and the Holocaust did the discussions concerning pro-euthanasia cease.
The comfort of the term euthanasia and its intent became an evil crime of horror. The Holocaust claimed 6 million Jews and 3 million gypsies, under the erroneous premise of ethnic cleansing, forever altering the definition and intent of euthanasia. This act does not define euthanasia, it defines murder, yet has become a strong premise in the contemporary debate against humane euthanasia. The evil of Nazi Germany will not be forgotten and the fear of misplaced power should remain, however, it does not have a rightful position in the arguments concerning euthanasia for the terminally ill.
The current contemporary issue regarding the Darfur Genocide profoundly illustrates misplaced power and genocide, not euthanasia. Tremendous medical and technological improvements during the late 1950s made it possible to sustain life in terminally ill patients and those in vegetative states for extended periods of time. These medical advancements brought quality-of-life issues to the forefront. The Patient’s Bill of Rights written in 1973 by the American Hospital Association grants the patient the right to reject medicine with informed consent.
The United States Constitution also awards citizens the right of freedom of choice, and being in control of one’s life. Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide through the Death with Dignity Act in 1998 and since then 460 people have died via this option. Washington passed the Death with Dignity Act in 2008 with 57. 91 percent approval under the voter initiative I-1000. As of March 4, 2010, 36 people have self-administered the lethal medication via physician’s prescription in Washington State. There have been 63 prescriptions filled, but some opted not to exercise this option, dying via their terminal illness.
As of 2012 the only other state to legalize euthanasia for the terminally ill is Montana. The greatest misunderstanding relating to the Death with Dignity Act comes from a common misuse of the term “assisted suicide. ” The power of language and the use of the word “suicide” exemplify a scare tactic used by those opposed to the law. Suicide identifies a desperate act and generally executed in secrecy. The connotations that are created in religion and moral values regarding suicide are not present. Suicide intentionally ends one’s own life, ending an open-ended life span.
Death with dignity enables a choice to shorten an inescapable, impending and painful death of a person who desperately wants to live, but that option does not exist. The choice allows control and dignity in the process of dying. The Act provides a sense of peace, enables communication with healthcare professionals and loved ones; though there still will be sadness it can permit a celebration of one’s life. To support and legally allow a terminally ill person the option to choose the timing for the end of their life illustrates an act of humanity.
The pain inherent in the terminally ill is meaningless, eternal and doomed to dramatically increase. A valid measurement does not exist to determine the degree of pain experienced by an individual. Medications relieve a limited amount of the pain, however, medications have proven grossly inadequate in certain cases. A man suffering from prostate cancer said, “The medication puts me to sleep. As soon as I wake up there’s pain. If I can’t live free of the pain, I’m not living at all, simply existing. ” Another patient suffering from pancreatic cancer stated, ”I would never have believed that there could be such pain.
I am a different person. It's like having a new set of neurons implanted in my brain, each one producing as much pain as it can. And here I am enjoying the best of American medicine. I am ready to go now. ” Indisputably, there are increased advances in studies and medicine; however, there reaches a point when the excessive pain becomes unbearable for the patient. Currently, the contemporary debate continues in the United States, especially amongst religious entities strongly opposing the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon and Washington states.
Many religious traditions remain faithful to ancient teachings and beliefs concerning the physical side of life and death. Modern technology and science have discovered new insights and helped some leaders of faith to reconsider. Terminal illness and disease are no longer as large a mystery. Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion ; Choices, a group for the advocacy of aid in dying, has fought against the Catholic Church and their staunch undermining of The Death With Dignity Act.
The Catholic Church instigated a movement, To Live Each Day with Dignity; this movement’s intent aggressively increases the assault on end-of-life choices. For many Catholics, the Pope’s directive mandates the final word, a word that directs a judgment without introspection and self thought. Evangelical, Mormon, Protestant and unaffiliated religions also have profiles that dictate their vote. Religious proponents of The Death with Dignity Act religious proponents believe godliness does not exist in allowing a terminally ill person to experience needless suffering.
The future of legalized euthanasia will be dependent upon the guidelines, boundaries and law in place to prevent the abuse of euthanasia and honoring it, as was originally intended, a “good death”. Euthanasia in its true form negates a criminal act as believed by certain cultural, social and religious entities. However, Scott Robinson states in, To Go Among the Saracens, “Yet the human situation is characterized, above all, by “forgetfulness,” or “heedlessness. ” Historically, the criminal acts regarded, as euthanasia during Hitler’s reign must be remembered.
The slippery slope effect concerning involuntary euthanasia exists as a misguided dogma in the historical debate of legalizing assisted suicide. Consequently, an ongoing political battle will continue throughout the world concerning the contemporary issue of euthanasia. Scientifically, thorough research and philosophical analysis will progress, thus adding to the political dimension and enhancing a deeper understanding of the issue. Bibliography Admiraal, Pieter. "Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide. " Accessed November 12, 2012. http://biology. franklincollege. du/bioweb/Biology/course_p/bioethics/Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. doc. Barber, Melissa. "Death With Dignity Isn't Suicide. " Death With Dignity National Center, April 25, 2011. http://www. deathwithdignity. org/2011/04/25/death-dignity-isnt-suicide (accessed Novmeber 11, 2012). Simon, Rita J. "Euthanasia and The Right to Die: Overview. " ABC-CLIO Understanding Controversy and Society. http://issues. abc-clio. com/Topics/Display/913372? cid=41;terms=Euthanasia and the Right to Die (accessed October 1, 2012). Lafolette, Hugh. "Living On a Slippery Slope. " The Journal of Ethics. 9. no. /4 (2005): 475-499. http://www. jstor. org/stable/25115837? seq=1 (accessed October 1, 2012). McKhann, Charles F. Time to Die: The Place for Physician Assistance. Michigan: Yale University Press, 1999. http://washingtonstate. worldcat. org/oclc/47009260 Neumann, Ann. "The Nation: Keeping the Right to Die Alive. " The Nation, June 16, 2011. (accessed December 6, 2012). http://www. npr. org/2011/06/16/137217016/the-nation-keeping-the-right-to-die-alive "Religion and Spirituality. " Death With Dignity National Center. http://www. deathwithdignity. org/historyfacts/religion (accessed December 7, 2012).
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