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Essay: Voluntary Euthanasia

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  • Subject area(s): Health essays
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
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  • Words: 1,699 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 7 (approx)
  • Tags: Euthanasia essays

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1. What is the ethical issue? How do you know this is an ethical issue?

The ethical issue is whether euthanasia should be made legal in Australia or not.

Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally terminating a person’s life, typically to free them of pain and suffering. In recent years, this issue has become a heavily debated topic around the world.

The issue is clearly ethical as it adheres to the four criteria which constitute an ethical issue. Multiple authorities are invested in arguing the matter; in Australia, some include the Catholic Church, leaders from religions such as Hindu and Islam, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, and medical professionals and organisations like The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

There are multiple outcomes for the issue. Both active and passive voluntary euthanasia may be legalised throughout Australia, or only one may be permitted, and potentially only permitted in selected states.

Euthanasia is obviously argued in terms of right and wrong, good or bad as at the centre of the debate is whether people have the right to choose to end their lives, and whether others can make that decision for them.

Euthanasia has a large media presence, especially in Victoria where there is over 100 hours of debate on euthanasia in Parliament. Euthanasia is regularly discussed on news programs, in newspapers, social media and between people in the community.

2. What are the pros and cons of each outcome and the main arguments put forward for each side?

At the centre of the euthanasia debate is whether or not we as humans reserve the right to choose to die. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that “a timely and dignifies death… is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”. However, a US Supreme Court majority opinion in 1997 decided that “the asserted “right” to [assisting peoples] in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty”.

Some argue that condemning people to prolonged pain, suffering and poor quality of life is not fair. Others argue that the law is not in place to mandate suffering, but to “prevent abuse” from doctors who would not value and respect the power that they would have.

More arguments from those against euthanasia include; the notion that it may be used and abused by family members to rid other family members for access to trust funds and inheritance, or as a cover for murder. Others argue that euthanasia devalues human life, and also is a direct violation of the Hippocratic Oath, in which doctors pledge to do no harm. Arguments surrounding euthanasia regularly reference the Hippocratic Oath. As stated above, some believe that euthanasia is a direct violation of the Oath and “do no harm”, whereas others argue that it really comes down to what we believe constitutes “harm”.  Arguments in support of euthanasia that reference the Hippocratic Oath say that our society may be doing for harm to a patient who is suffering with a terminal illness by forcing them to live rather than allowing them to die peacefully.

Permitting euthanasia will vacate hospital beds and will “free up medical funds to help more people” who actually want to live. Euthanasia will also save money and resources, meaning those who wish to live will be receiving better care, in better facilities. This will benefit individuals, families and the wider community.

More arguments in support of euthanasia include; that living with a terminal illness can take away one’s autonomy and dignity, leaving people with little to no quality of life. By offering euthanasia, it allows one to take back control of their own body.  Another compelling argument is that people have an explicit right to die, and that death is a private matter. Therefore, if it is not causing harm to others, other people have no right to interfere.

3. What is the Hindu perspective on this issue and what values does it show?

Hinduism focuses less on what is definitively right and wrong, but instead is concerned about the consequences of one’s actions. Hindus believe in reincarnation and that it is affected by one’s actions and “karma”.

There are two different Hindu perspectives on euthanasia. One is that helping to end a painful life is compassionate and will contribute to good karma. The values shown here are that people value other’s dignity and freedom and allow the terminally ill relief from their pain.

The other is that ending a life before one would naturally die means that the soul will separate from the body at an unnatural time and therefore harm the karma of both the patient and doctor. This belief also extends to the notion that keeping someone alive on life-support would not be right as it artificially extends one’s life.  There is one exception to this however. This exception is “prayopavesa”, which is the only acceptable way for devout Hindus to end their lives if they are suffering from a terminal illness. It is performed through natural means, usually fasting to death.

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswam was a Hindu leader who in November 2011 took his own life after being diagnosed with untreatable intestinal cancer. He meditated for days, then announced that he would take only pain-killing medications and undertake prayopavesa (ingesting only water and no food).

He died on the 32nd day of fasting.

The strongest value of this perspective is complete trust in religion as death is god’s decision.

Even though there are these two different views on euthanasia in the one religion, most Hindus would believe the second, as assisting death also goes against the nonviolence ideals of Hinduism.

4. What is the Islam perspective on this issue and what values does it show?

In the Islam religion, human life is considered sacred as it is given by Allah. It is also believed that Allah chooses how long each person should live and humans should not interfere with this. Therefore, most Muslims are completely against euthanasia.

This view is supported by many parts of the Qur’an, particularly the quote “do not take life, which Allah made sacred, other than in the course of justice” (17:33).

Devout Muslims also believe that DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders represent a form of euthanasia, which is strictly forbidden in Islam. Other than in the course of justice, Muslims cannot kill or be complicit in the killing of themselves or others. There are many examples in the Qur’an which state this explicitly. Such as, “Destroy not yourselves. Surely Allah is ever merciful to you” (4:29).

While this is the case, the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics states that “it is futile to diligently keep the patient in a vegetative state by heroic means… It is the process of life that the doctor aims to maintain and not the process of dying”. This means that in cases where there is no cure for the patient, a doctor may choose to stop trying to prolong life.

5. Compare the two religions.

In both Hinduism and Islam there are beliefs against euthanasia, albeit for different reasons. In the Hindu religion they believe that euthanasia will cause the separating the soul and the body at an unnatural time, therefore harming the karma of the doctor and the patient. In Islam, killing is strictly forbidden other than in the course of justice, this extends to euthanasia and suicide.

The clear difference, however, is that some Hindus believe that by helping to relieve one’s suffering you are doing a good deed out of compassion, resulting in good karma. Regardless of the fact that it is euthanasia.

6. What is the history of this debate in Australia?

In November 2017, Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

By mid 2019, Victoria will be the first state to allow active euthanasia for terminally ill patients. The slight exception to this is Northern Territory, which implemented pro-euthanasia laws in 1996 but were quickly overridden by the Federal Government in 1997.

Assisted dying will be allowed for patients over the age of 18 who are capable of making their own decisions. They must be have an incurable illness that causes intolerable suffering, be expected to live no longer than 6 months and have resided in Victoria for at least 12 months.

Mental illness and disability alone are not grounds for access to assisted dying, but people who otherwise meet the criteria in addition to being disabled or having a mental illness will not be denied access.

The legislation around assisted dying has upwards of 60 safeguards to ensure vulnerable people are kept safe from coercion and abuse, this included all new criminal offences and a special board to review all cases of euthanasia.

The chief minister in the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner, is a passionate advocate for euthanasia. Whilst Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, Gunner urged him to allow the NT to make their own decisions regarding euthanasia.

7. What is your opinion?

I believe that voluntary euthanasia should be legal as I think it is truly selfish to expect people who are terminally ill and living in continuous pain and agony to continue their life. In addition to terminally ill patients, I believe that voluntary euthanasia should be extended to elderly people if their quality of life is poor. If an elderly person has no remaining family or friends and is living unhappily each day I believe that they should be allowed the freedom to die with dignity.

I also believe that non-voluntary euthanasia should be permitted, if it is written and given to one’s medical power of attorney. As a precautionary measure, one may choose to write that they request euthanasia if they happen to become so unwell that they are unable to communicate with medical professionals or their family. However, it would be risky to legalise non-voluntary euthanasia without proper rules and regulations surrounding it.

I come from a non-religious background and I believe that that influences my thoughts on euthanasia. I was not raised with concepts reflected in both the Islam and Hindu religions such as the sanctity of life and that God should retain the right to give and take life.

I have the belief that a person has the complete right to choose to die with self-respect and dignity, therefore I fully support euthanasia.

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