Who has the right to say whether a person lives or dies? The person has the right to decide. You are in control of your body and hold your life in your hands, right or wrong you have the option to end your life, and in extreme cases your family has the right to act on your behalf. There is no one who should be able to take this option away from you. Everyone has certain inalienable rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution, and if a person has a right to life then they have a right to death. In 1997, in its decisions in the Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill cases, the U.S. Supreme Court again affirmed the right of competent patients to refuse unwanted medical treatments and to receive adequate pain treatment at the end of life – even if it might hasten death(www.choices.org).
The definition of euthanasia is, according to Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, a painless peaceful death or the putting to death of a person suffering from a fatal disease or the like: also called mercy killing. Euthanasia can be both passive and active. Passive euthanasia is more accepted by society because it is seen more as letting nature take its course rather than killing a person. In passive euthanasia what most commonly happens is a person is taken off life support and allowed to die. It seems so much neater and easy to understand than active euthanasia. The vision of mad doctors with fuzzy white hair sticking out in all directions and laughing as they inject you some fatal drug is scary and a total misconception. After all, this isn’t a B-movie. The truth of the matter is that a doctor that the person knows and trusts could give the injection. If it was legalized a person wouldn’t need to search out someone like Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his self-execution machine to end their lives. They could have it done and feel confident in the doctor’s ability. Death is a certainty in life. Why should those who are in great pain and/or are terminal have to wait to die? Why should a patient be forced to live if they think their present standard of life has degenerated to the point of meaningless? A good death…is under the dying person’s control and gives that person time to settle debts and fulfill obligations. Achieving closure is important. The term refers to settling differences, healing wounds, and closing gaps in human relationships. Closure is difficult or impossible when the timing of death is uncertain or when the patient is too physically frail or mentally impaired. To most people, a death without closure is a bad death. (Logue/euthanasia.org)
Death is a scary subject. A subject that many people don’t want to discuss especially when a family member is on the verge. What many people do not realize is that those who are so ill that they can no longer take care of themselves or enjoy the simple things have made peace with the reality of death and are ready to face it. When they are ready to die, they are ready. If the family is not prepared, they cannot ask the ill member to hold on for them. Death is very personal and no one has the right to choose when that person’s time is but that person.
A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless to resist.
-Steward Alsop, Stay of Execution
So what about those people who cannot speak for themselves? Those people who are vegetables or just unaware of what is going on, being in no mental state to know how to answer this question. There is a point where it no longer becomes feasible to keep someone on life support. The financial, emotional, and physical burden on the members of the family is overwhelming and it cannot be expected of them to keep up that sort of care when there is no hope for recovery. It is not fair to give the family a false hope that the suffering party could recover when the truth is that it will probably not happen. It is true that doctors have been wrong about such things, but it is such a small percentage that it does not make sense to try with everyone. Of course, if the family wants to keep that person alive no one will stop them. However, if the family should choose to end that person’s life in, what they believe is, the best interest of the ill person, then they should have that option. An action that radical, though, would have to be cleared by several medical opinions and with a family counselor who would explain to the family what it would mean to take the person off live support.
An argument that people have used against euthanasia is that in the Constitution, it guarantees the right to life but not the right to death. However, death is just another phase of life. We are born, we live, and then we die. It is an unavoidable part of being alive: the knowledge that someday everyone will die. Another part of the Constitution they argue is that attempted suicide is a crime so how can euthanasia be legal. The answer is that the people who are euthanized are terminally ill or in such discomfort that their quality of life has gone down to a degree not worth living. It is also monitored to be sure that the patients are actually in a state in which euthanasia would be beneficial. People who commit suicide are merely depressed and think their life cannot get any better. Those who are terminally ill know that their life will not get any better. Also, who is to say that a law against suicide is right? That is the great thing about the Constitution: it can change as the times change.
Another argument is that not all that can be done should be done to preserve a life. The advances of technology have disturbed the natural balance of life and death. No longer does a person die when they naturally would; life-support now prevents that. Opponents say doctors should not play God by killing patients, but do they realize that by prolonging the process of death the medical profession is doing exactly that? They are keeping the patient alive when God would have them dead. That statement sounds harsh, but isn’t it the truth? Doctors are not always responsible to do everything they can to save somebody. If a doctor’s duty is to ease the pain of his patients, then why should this exclude the possibility of letting them die? It is a mistake to see doctors either as curers (for sometimes they cannot cure us) or as killers (for most of the time they will not kill us). Rather we should see them as carers. And proper caring can call in special circumstances for killing. (Crisp/euthanasia.org) A poll done in the United States showed that forty-seven percent of doctors had received requests from patients to hasten their deaths. Nineteen percent of these doctors took active steps that brought about the death of a patient. Also, sixty-eight percent thought that guidelines for withholding or withdrawing treatment should be established and forty-five percent were in favor of legislation of active euthanasia under certain circumstances (www.euthanasia.org).
As someone who has experienced first hand how devastating it can be to have someone in their family who is in such pain that they can barely move, and want more than anything else to die now rather than in a year, I can say that allowing someone to choose whether they live or die is a right that all people in that kind of position should be given. It is hard for the family to let go, but at the same time one must respect the wishes of the individual and understand that this is what is best for them. Had she gone into a coma and I had to choose for her, I would have chosen to remove life support. As much as I would not want to, it is what she would have wanted.
No matter how much the world changes, or how technologically advanced we get there will always be people dying. It is the one of the things that technology cannot stop from happening. Death, however, should be a dignified and personal experience that comes to an individual in a debilitating state through his or her own wishes.