A Euphemism for Suicide: Euthanasia

Death comes in variety and no one can avoid its inevitability, yet death is what gives life its intensity. Our strong attachment to life itself stems from the unequivocal certainty that someday death will take us too. Every human on this world only has an allotted time on this earth to leave behind something meaningful for future generations to come. This understanding that we can be forcefully taken by death at any moment is why people aspire to be great, so we can find the fulfillment that comes with living life to the fullest and accomplishing what we can with small amount of time we have on this planet. Death can come in many forms: by the force of a bullet, in some places by the explosion of a missile, by the collision of two vehicles, and most commonly by the failure of someone’s vital organs.

We tend to not critically think about death until it confronts us or a loved one. Death can be a daunting topic even for those with admirable amounts of mental fortitude. More often than not the uncertainty and unpredictability of death contribute to the fear of death as a whole. Religion seeks to comfort this uncertainty with the certainty that each individual is all under God’s plan and that pious people should be accepting of death for it is a gateway to the afterlife. Others seek professional help to express their different fears and worries in the hope that they can one day accept the inevitability of death itself. All of this goes to show something we already know: throughout time we have developed various ways to combat the fear of death yet it still seems to create such an overwhelming effect on humans. When people are confronted with the news that they themselves have to face an imminent death (e.g. a diagnosis of a fatal disease), the emotional distress is even more overbearing. This distress can cause people to think irrationally and believe that they themselves want to take their own lives, and go against every instinct they have in their bodies to live and maintain that strong attachment we have to life itself. Suicide is the term used to describe the action of taking your own life; however, when someone decides to take their own life when they are diagnosed terminally ill the term changes to euthanasia. Euthanasia is still suicide. Thus, it should not be morally or legally permissible anywhere because it may put a pressure on others to also commit suicide because it becomes a cultural norm. Furthermore, by legalizing euthanasia we create a culture in which we slowly degrade the value of life itself.

The desire for Euthanasia stems from two different beliefs: one someone who will most likely die in the near future does not need to endure pain for the remainder of the patient’s life, and two allowing someone to die through Euthanasia might be easier for the family and the patient rather than let the person die naturally. Since the early 1800s, euthanasia has been a topic of debates and activism in The United States of America, Canada, Western Europe and Australasia. Ezekiel Emanuel, an American National Institutes of Health bioethicist, said that the modern era of euthanasia was ushered in by the availability of anesthesia; finding ways to avoid pain altogether developed into a different a controversial solution: euthanasia. The first anti-euthanasia law in the United States was passed in the state of New York in 1828. In the following years, many other states followed suit with similar laws.

At the time, Euthanasia seemed to be an issue that would be put to rest; however, after the American Civil War, several advocates, including doctors, promoted euthanasia to relieve the emotional and physical pains of war veterans destined to live the remainder of their lives in pain. (Nordqvist) The sentiment of empathy for the veterans, who gave their life protecting the belief that all men were created equal, revived advocacy for euthanasia. Euthanasia was no longer spun as assisted suicide but as a way to end the suffering for those who had suffered enough.

Today, the world is still in conflict with whether assisted-suicide should be legalized. Some religious countries and citizens argue that euthanasia no matter the circumstance is interfering with God’s plans and is comparable to murder (Debate.org). More liberal countries and some states in America have legalized Euthanasia, arguing it gives a safe way to end suffering to those would die in intolerable amounts of pain on their deathbed. These places include the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Albania, and Canada. In the United States, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana, and California have all passed legislation to legalize a form of assisted-suicide. In the majority of the places that have legalized euthanasia, the patient has to be diagnosed with a fatal disease. Specifically in the states that have legalized euthanasia in America, the patient has to be expected to die in the next six months in order to be legally qualified to take his own life. Euthanasia itself has to be voluntary as well, but often patients diagnosed might not make the choices that will help themselves the most or help their families.

Studies have shown that those terminally ill patients who seek euthanasia do so not because of their terminal illness but because they are suffering from depression. (Terminal Illness) Although most laws around the world for Euthanasia require that the patients seeking it be mentally sane, depression, a common consequence of an imminent death sentence, often goes undiagnosed. Instead of allowing patients to receive the help they need, we are allowing them to make an irreversible decision in an unstable and unhealthy mindset. Depression itself causes people to go against their instincts to preserve their lives, as seen with the correlation between suicide and depression. The decision to commit suicide, even though someone may be in dire circumstances, still stems from a distorted assessment of said circumstances; they arrive to an irrevocable conclusion without seeking genuine help for their mental condition. If physician-assisted suicide becomes permissible and culturally acceptable, the presumption that people attempting suicide are in need of psychological help, repeatedly proven by many studies and years of experience, would be reversed. (Texas Right to Life Committee)

An attempt at suicide, some psychologists say, is often a test to see if anyone truly cares about the person desperately calling for help. Indeed, seeking physician assistance in a suicide, rather than just acting to kill oneself, may well be a manifestation, however subconscious, of precisely this test. If we create a “right to suicide” and legalize “physician-assisted suicide,” the message perceived by a suicide attempter is not likely to be, “We respect and understand your decision to take your life,” but rather, “We don’t care if you die; your life does not matter to us.”

Kantian ethics further demonstrates the moral flaws in the idea of euthanasia. To start, Kantian ethics is a philosophy that is determines whether something is moral by raising the question if said action can be universalized. Furthermore, Kantian ethics ignores the consequences of an action and instead looks at the virtue of an action to determine its moral worth. In the case of Euthanasia, universally applying it can lead to a slippery slope. There will often be cases in which the diagnosis may be wrong or a where treatments for a specific disease be found after the person commits euthanasia. So here the act of euthanasia is shown to have no moral worth according to Kantian ethics because it cannot be universalized. According to the virtue aspect of Kantian ethics, Euthanasia is still immoral. Although some may argue the intention of the person committing euthanasia is morally sound because patients just want to alleviate the burden for their families and the pains for themselves, euthanasia goes against the virtue to not kill in any circumstance, even if it means killing yourself. The bigger problem of Euthanasia, however, does not lie in its immorality, but in the consequences of creating a culture that accepts suicide as a form of alleviating pain. We put society on a slippery slope.

If euthanasia becomes legally permissible and culturally acceptable, we as a society put a pressure on anyone diagnosed terminally ill to take his or her life. There are many fatal diseases that can make someone legally allowed to perform euthanasia. However, instead of talking about euthanasia in terms of every single fatal disease known to doctors today, let us simply talk about euthanasia in terms of cancer. Financially speaking, fighting cancer is expensive. On average the cost of cancer care is around $10,000 a month. As of now the most expensive cancer medicine is the one to combat brain cancer at a whopping average of $135,000 a month. (National Cancer Institute) To put this into perspective, that means anyone who is diagnosed with a cancer that will kill them in six months, on average, has to pay $60,000 dollars before they die. Roughly eighty percent of the populous won’t be able to pay that much with their own money (Fry and Kochhar). Therefore those who are diagnosed terminally ill may feel pressured into taking their own lives so that their families won’t have the financial burden of keeping them alive any longer. This pressure can also be brought upon patients from insurance companies as well, as the big companies themselves would have to pay less for someone committing voluntary euthanasia than someone dying from a disease. According to the New York State Department of Health in 2011, “Under any new system of health care delivery, as at present, it will be far less costly to give a lethal injection than to care for a patient throughout the dying process.” (State-by-State Guide to Physician-Assisted Suicide, 2011) It’s important that we take steps to avoid people feeling inclined to commit suicide because if we don’t we inadvertently create a culture that slowly degrades the true value of life itself. We should never see six months of a person’s life solely as $60,000.

If we as a culture begin to accept the rise in suicides due to the legalization of euthanasia, the actions that will follow may be very detrimental to the lives of those around the world. Euthanasia itself is an open gateway for badder things to come. Euthanasia’s moral basis stems from the belief that terminating someone’s life can be beneficial in some cases. However, if we accept this as culturally permissible, the next logical step is why limit this benefit to those who can only give consent, leading to the legalization of involuntary euthanasia. Life itself is too valuable for euthanasia. Although so much suffering can occur for someone with a fatal disease, it is important that we as a society still take steps to advocate for the preservation of life itself. When we change our viewpoints in what we believe is culturally permissible, we must always consider the consequences of our decision in the future. In short, legalizing euthanasia undermines the true value of life itself.

Works Cited

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Fry, Richard, and Rakesh Kochhar. “Are You in the Middle Class?” Pewresearch.org. PewReasearchCenter, n.d. Web. 8 May 2016. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/09/are-you-in-the-american-middle-class/>.

“History and Debate of Euthanasia.” Debate.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://www.debate.org/euthanasia/>.

Knightsmith, Pooky. “This Is What Depression Feels like — in the Words of the Sufferers.” Lifehack.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/this-what-depression-feels-like-the-words-sufferers.html>.

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“State-by-State Guide to Physician-Assisted Suicide.” Procon. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://euthanasia.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000132>.

“Terminal Illness.” Life.org. Life Resources Charitable Trust, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://www.life.org.nz/euthanasia/abouteuthanasia/abouteuthanasia4>.

“Why Assisted-Suicide Should Not Be Legalized.” Texas Right to Life. Texas Right to Life Committee, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <https://www.texasrighttolife.com/why-assisted-suicide-should-not-be-legalized/>.