Living in the civilized society of the 21st century implies tackling certain dilemmas that have haunted humanity throughout the prevailing part of its history. One of these unresolved issues, which have raised heated public debates in the recent several decades, is the question whether mercy killing should be legalized and mercy killers should be prosecuted by law. Society has divided into two opposing groups hardly leaving someone indifferent. The issue of mercy killing deals closely not only with law, but also with morality and the basic principles of humanity, thus being an interdisciplinary question with enormous potential impact on the daily life of people all over the world. As a rule, each country resolves this dilemma on its own. For instance, Holland and Switzerland legalized euthanasia long ago while it is still a debatable question in the USA and Canada. Mercy killing should be made legal because it involves the basic human right to make responsible decision about one’s own life and death, as well as the right to be relieved of unbearable pain and suffering.
Problems of Legalization of Mercy Killing
One of the central problems associated with the legalization of mercy killing is the confusion concerning the semantics of the words “euthanasia” and “mercy killing”. Nowadays, there are two views upon their meaning. The first is that these two concepts denote different phenomena. From this perspective, euthanasia is the act of relieving a patient of suffering through death committed by clinical professionals while mercy killing is performed either by relatives or the third party without any medical education. In this case, “mercy killing would thus appear as a challenge to the very attempt to systematize euthanasia through medicalization and legal regulation” as it would mean legalizing murder. The second view is that these terms denote essentially the same phenomenon, yet their connotations are slightly different in terms of evoking emotional response. Thus, euthanasia is perceived as “the concept of a good or painless death, to which nobody could object, as well as the bringing about of that death” while mercy killing “has an unpleasant sound”. This paper is going to accept the second viewpoint, hence considering mercy killing and euthanasia to be complete synonyms that can be substituted.
The most often mentioned and the most convincing argument in favor of legalizing euthanasia is that it is aimed at relieving the suffering and pain of terminally ill patients or patients with severe health problems that disable them to live a normal life. Terminally ill patients often have to endure months if not years of excruciating pain that cannot be alleviated through any medications. They deserve the right to decide for themselves whether they want to terminate their existence. The main counterargument of this idea is that patients have the right to refuse from any treatment, which will almost certainly lead to death. However, refusing from treatment does not guarantee a painless and peaceful death, but implies an agonizing one almost in all cases. The same principle of freedom to make healthcare decisions applies to patients with diseases that affect their quality of life in a radical way, even though these diseases do not threaten them with an immediate death. For instance, Alzheimer’s patients’ health deteriorates slowly, but irrevocably until they forget everything about themselves and the surrounding world. Comatose patients with the dead brain activity can be sustained through artificial life machines for years until their relatives agree to switch them off. These patients should possess an option of induced death, which must be done when they are fully conscious and eligible to make informed decisions.
Legalizing euthanasia does not mean that any human being seeking a way to die will be granted such a right. The legal procedures for mercy killing have to contain strict rules to be followed by medical practitioners and patients deciding to die with the help of medical assistance. Each case needs to be reviewed by a medical board and legal representatives. The patient’s physiological state has to be checked and assessed by a specialist in order to decide whether the decision was made by the patient of his/her free will and without any coercion or pressure. Besides, depression and other mental deviations are to be regarded as instances when euthanasia is unacceptable, unless they have been caused by a rapidly deteriorating health or excruciating pain, and there is the patient’s legally authorized order prescribing doctors’ actions under these circumstances. This document has to be signed and authorized not later than five years prior to the happening events. These and other strict rules to be followed by all the participants of the euthanasia process should be established in order to ensure that only legitimate patients are granted with the permission for induced death.
Euthanasia as Alternative for Religious Suicide
Mercy killing is the logical extension of the human right to live, and no one except the patient himself/herself can decide whether to ask for euthanasia or not. People who suffer from incurable diseases often commit suicide, which negatively affects their families and friends. Moreover, religious individuals cannot commit suicide out of fear to be damned to spend the eternity of their afterlife in hell. Suicide is likely to involve mental and physical pain that can be avoided if the person has the option of asking a doctor to assist him/her. It is less painful and more merciful both for the patient and his/her family to die in the hospital after receiving a prescribed dosage of lethal medication. In this way, the patient has the opportunity to say all his/her goodbyes and dies peacefully while sleeping. Death is always a tremendous blow to the grieving family of the deceased, but euthanasia offers a deal of peace to them as they can be with their loved ones till their last breath. In extreme cases, the decision concerning euthanasia should be allowed to be made by close relatives if the person is unconscious or unable to decide. Nonetheless, all mercy killings are to be authorized only after healthcare professionals confirm that there is no cure or no way to improve the quality of life. Informed consent is essential, as well as written confirmation. If the patient still wants to opt for euthanasia after all the applying procedures and detailed discussion with a doctor, the law should grant him/her such a right.
Human being intent on dying will find a way to die regardless whether mercy killing is legalized or not. Euthanasia is a relatively civilized solution of the problem with a less traumatizing and brutal effect on the patient’s family and society as a whole. Furthermore, the legalization of euthanasia would mean that medical professionals are not persecuted by law. Nowadays, mercy killing is often treated as a murder that has to be punished accordingly by the law. Besides, desperate people often seek out their relatives, friends, or other compassionate people, who would agree to help them pass away. These individuals are to be sentenced to prison if their guilt is proven. The legalization of euthanasia means that patients would turn to hospitals where accredited and authorized doctors can induce their death. Legal mercy killing means that the lives of all involved individuals are not ruined by their compassion, and they do not have to suffer from public damnation and guilt for a deed that they have deemed as the right one.
Euthanasia is also a solution to the problem of enormous healthcare costs. Treatment of terminally ill patients and their sustenance in hospitals and hospices are not affordable for many families. Euthanasia could relieve them of their financial troubles, no matter how cold or cruel it may sound. Many patients do not have enough money to stay in hospitals until they die. Thus, they have no way to relieve their pain or alleviate their sufferings. Nonetheless, financial troubles should not be viewed as the key reason of deciding in favor of applying for euthanasia. Social workers have to make sure that the patient does not decide to die only because he/she regards himself/herself as a financial burden.
The main reason why mercy killing remains illegal in many countries of the world is that there are many counterarguments to the above mentioned pros. First of all, opponents claim that human life is sacred and no one but God has the right to terminate it. Thus, pain and suffering are the integral parts of human existence, and they cannot be the reason to allow induced death. Second, patients may resort to euthanasia under some external pressure that may be overlooked by specialists responsible for the ultimate decision. Third, the argument concerning healthcare costs is simply inhumane and cruel as it devalues the concept of life. Fourth, active euthanasia may lead to the situation when doctors decide to kill patients out of mercy without their consent. The emergence of passive euthanasia is a major perceived shortcoming of legalizing mercy killings, which has been proved by the example of Holland and other countries with the alarmingly high rates of induced death. Finally, medicine makes immense progresses every year, which means that once incurable diseases or at least their symptoms may be successfully treated. Eliminating pain would discourage the prevailing part of people seeking euthanasia from this last resort.
The issue of euthanasia remains one of the most debatable ones in contemporary society. There are both pros and cons that complicate making the final decision whether mercy killing should be legalized. The most appropriate solution to the problem seems to be the governmental decision to carry out a public referendum. In such a way, every citizen would have the opportunity to express his/her personal attitude to the existing problem. Democracy means the governments for people and by people. Therefore, people of the country through the majority should possess the right to have an ultimate say in the process of legalizing euthanasia in society.
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