The debate involving euthanasia, or mercy killing, isn’t a hot topic in the nation today but likely will be a hotly debated subject in the future as it has been in the past. Among other arguments, proponents point to the popular concept of mercy killing terminal animals who are suffering and extending this reasoning to humans while opponents claim, among other things, there can never be enough precautions to prevent abuse of the practice and that it’s “playing God.”
Those for legalized active euthanasia claim that a mentally competent patient with a terminal illness should not be denied the right to a death with dignity at a time of their choosing. A person should not have to suffer for weeks, months or years in pain while they watch their family witnessing their slow demise, a mentally and emotionally draining experience for all. It’s a question of personal liberty and autonomy, the freedom to choose. Euthanasia is legal in European countries and five US states. All the legalities concerned of questions of abuse have been long worked out. Lives are not taken without a lengthy, carefully regulated process involving following the patient’s wishes, medical procedures and multiple doctor opinions while patients continue to be given the best of care prior to the end of life.
End of life care is the most expensive. Keeping a once productive person on life support is undignified for the patient and costly for their loved ones. No one wants to burden their family with heavy debt unnecessarily. Keeping a person alive who has no hope of survival and a wish to end their life is also expensive for hospitals who must allocate staff to care for the dying diverting them from patients who are fighting to live. The nation is already experiencing a nursing shortage and as the “Baby Boomer” generation continues to age the need for health care workers will be greater and this shortage will grow larger. Not only a merciful, dignified death, legalized euthanasia allows already scarce health care dollars to be spent where it helps most.
Those opposed to legalizing euthanasia admit it’s legal in a few states and countries but say proponents should admit after decades of trying to legalize the practice it’s still only legal in a few states and countries. Therefore, a clear majority of the US and the world do not think killing yourself is a right or a question of personal liberty. Laws prohibiting euthanasia are intended to protect the most vulnerable in society from unscrupulous doctors, hospitals and family members, all of which could profit from the practice. These laws are not intended to make people suffer more than they are.
If the US adopts universal healthcare the government could be directly involved in deciding who lives and who dies depending on the economics of health care at a given time. In the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, end-of-life care is almost non-existent. Only a few hospice facilities are available in the country, likely due to legal, widespread euthanasia. Those with limited financial resources would be vulnerable to abuses of the system as would those who are the usual suspects of social inequality, minorities and the uneducated. With the historic and recent examples of rising racism, euthanasia has the potential to be abused by racist health care workers.
The US is a majority religious nation. Many view euthanasia as doctors, and worse, the government playing God with people’s lives. Religious leaders as well as followers deem it their moral duty to not allow the taking of an innocent life. They say morality keeps them from endorsing killing for convenience. They also say society has a moral obligation to preserve life and to use all available medical techniques. Many doctors agree referencing the Hippocratic Oath which expressly forbids the practice. The opponents position is about protecting the sanctity of life, to them a noble and certain position.
Legalized euthanasia is an emotional subject with compelling moral arguments on both sides. Do we let grandma suffer needlessly or do we kill her purposely? It not an easy question to ask or one to answer either. It’s a subject that should be debated and resolved but it’s not on the nations’ political agenda today.