My family lives in California, a three hour time difference behind Pennsylvania. I got a call the other night from my mum telling me that they had had to put my three year old puppy down. He was in visible pain for two whole days, plus a night. When they brought him into the ER for the second time, he stopped receiving proper oxygen flow and was bleeding internally. My mother made the hard decision of having him put to sleep . Being in Pennsylvania, I wasn’t even able to see him one last time before he was gone forever.
Countless others also experience this sort of intractable pain, such as those conflicted with the side effects of cancer, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and those suffering from various forms of depression, and other psychological diseases. Yet humanized euthanasia (humanized in this instance referring to the action of applying euthanasia to humans as opposed to animals) remains a highly controversial topic.
An April 2016 article written by Christian Nordqvist for Medical News Today states that, “there are two procedural classifications of euthanasia: Passive euthanasia…[and] [a]ctive euthanasia…” Of the two, active euthanasia is much more controversial of a topic, though both have been long-standing issues in countries around the world.
The difference between these two is this:
- Passive euthanasia is, “a mode of ending life in which a physician is given an option not to prescribe futile treatments for the hopelessly ill patient.”
- And active euthanasia is, “a mode of ending life in which the intent is to cause the patient’s death in a single act (also called mercy killing).”
This would involve things like lethal injections, or pills, that would cause instantaneous death. Many people don’t even know about the two different types of euthanasia. However, these definitions alone show that these are not murders that are happening; these are upon the patient(s)’s request(s).
Many who are against euthanasia claim it is inhumane on a moral basis, saying that is essentially assisted suicide. The problem that opposing individuals have with this idea normally has to do with the person’s religious beliefs, as suicide is considered immoral in many faiths. Therefore, not only would assisted suicide be considered immoral in these terms, but it would also be considered an act of murder.
Some say it could be also considered involuntary on the part of some patients. For instance, an argument is that if someone is on a life support machine, they are not technically competent to make the decision for themselves of whether or not they should be removed from the machine.
In response to this, those who are pro-euthanasia say that families are struggling too, not just those who are in jeopardy of losing their lives. If the person hooked up to life support is in a vegetative state, or in other cases a coma, then the family has to watch their loved one die, even though they’re not fully living.
It can be argued that patients in such a state are not really living; they are just existing. In other cases, these patients may be suffering, just as my pet was. These types of situations show how, “only the patient is really aware of what is like to experience [the] intractable (persistent,unstoppable) suffering…” as stated in the Nordqvist article. Essentially, this means that although the person is living, the quality of life is not present.
In countries where it is not banned, it is seen as more of a human right. In Rachel Aviv’s June 2015 article in the New Yorker, she follows the story of a woman in Belgium who chose to get euthanized. She quotes many of the diary entries from the woman named Godelieva De Troyer, as well as interviewed some of her family members, psychiatrists, and the doctor who performed her euthanization.
The doctor, Dr. Distelmans, is known by Belgians for, “promoting a dignified death as a human right, a ‘tremendous liberation,’” according to Aviv’s article, as well as was one of, “the leading proponents of a 2002 law in Belgium that permits euthanasia for patients who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering”.
According to the records, Distelmans has euthanized over a hundred patients since 2002. He asked this rhetorical question of Aviv when she brought up the religious standpoints of many Christians and Catholics regarding euthanasia:
“‘Who am I to convince patients that they have to suffer longer than they want?’”
Another anti-euthanasia argument is that the patient could recover if they were given a chance. However, for cases where patients have fallen under a comatose or vegetative state, the chances of recovery are slim.
A coma is the first stage of a vegetative state if the patient progresses that far. Comas, according to an article on Patient.com, are typically impermanent, lasting in typical cases for months at the most. Despite this, there are cases where a comatose state could continue, “and a vegetative state is a possible outcome…”
The likely course of such states are mainly influenced by the age of the said patient and the cause of their trauma. After a month of a trauma-induced vegetative state, slightly more than half of the said patients have the potential of a possible recovery. In other cases though, “after a month in a vegetative state fewer than 20% will recover. The chances of regaining awareness fall as time passes…”.
For instances involving euthanasia in other types of cases, such as cancer, the chances of recovery depend on numerous factors, like the type of cancer the patient has contracted. Either way, the toll that cancer takes on the body is undeniably dramatic and painful, and many forms of cancer (especially if detected too late) are terminal. Therefore, the survival and/or recovery rate of cancer is also quite low. According to the mortality statistics of cancer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 185.6 people in every 100,000 will die from cancer. That’s relatively high.
Palliative care is another alternative to euthanasia that is brought up frequently. This term is defined by the World Health Organization as
“An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psycho-social and spiritual…”
This method is essentially there for the patient(s) receiving care to live out their remaining time as actively and fully as possible, while at the same time trying to help the family cope with the end result of their loved one’s illness.
However, as aforementioned, only the patient really understands the pain that they are going through. So it’s important to ask if the “prevention” and “relief” of suffering that the patient is feeling is a possible goal at all. Also, just because the pain (and other possible side effects of said pain) is identified early doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be relievable, just that there is a warning of it.
Going along with the individual’s experience, the patient is the only one who can actually determine how their quality of life is affected by their illness. This applies to the family of said patient as well; only they can truly determine what effect the loss — or inevitable loss — of their loved one(s) will have on their life. And just because there are certain practices aimed at helping them cope, that doesn’t mean the pain still won’t be present upon the death of their loved one(s).
Therefore, while palliative care sounds nice, and would be ideal, it’s still not a very useful technique. Additionally, because of the recently discussed arguments against palliative care, it’s not really an equal substitute to those wishing to undergo euthanasia.
On another note, many articles, and just people in general who talk about the subject, refer to euthanasia as assisted suicide. That language is biased, and sheds a darker light on the subject than it may deserve, giving it a murderous sounding tone right off the bat. If that’s the first headline someone were to read on their daily newspaper, it of course would sound like the doctors and/or surgeons are villainous.
This shows that terminology surrounding euthanasia in-and-of itself is quite problematic. There are many ways that people are persuaded to believe things from the media, etc. One of those methods is through word choice, word structure, sentence structure, and so on. It is for this reason that definition of euthanasia itself is so important.
According to the medical dictionary, MediLexicon, euthanasia is:
- “A quiet, painless death.” or
- “The intentional putting to death of a person with an incurable or painful disease intended as an act of mercy.”
This alone shows that there’s really nothing murderous about it. Even the second definition, as we discussed before, is at the discretion of either the loved one undergoing the procedure or the family.
The most interesting part of the topic of euthanasia is that, as humans, we get so emotional over animal suffering. We cry about the loss of pets, cry over the death of movie deaths of animals, even put them to sleep to end their suffering so that they don’t have to spend their numbered days suffering unnecessarily.
If we’re willing to end the suffering of our pets, why aren’t we willing to do this for loved ones and other people? If our family members or loved ones are in so great of pain, and their days are numbered, why is it wrong for them to be euthanized as well? After all, humans, unlike animals, are capable of communicating consent.