Euthanasia Mercy Killing


Sue Rodriguez has reminded us all of our own mortality and
our need to think carefully about the kind of society we want to
live and to die in. Sue Rodriguez was known through the media,
and her well spoken and eloquent speeches. People painfully in
support of what she believed in, watched as her strength was
sapped by the devastating disease (amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis), and we were moved by her clear thought and her
bravery as a person facing death. Here was a woman who acted on
her beliefs with courage and tenacity and whose grace has
enriched us all.
It is no defense to point to the fact that a person has
requested to be killed: "No person is entitled to consent to
have death inflicted upon him, and such consent does not affect
the criminal responsibilities of any person by whom death may be
inflicted upon the person by whom consent is given," which seems
to mean that no one has a right to consent to have death
inflicted on him or her. In addition, if a person causes the
death of another, the consent of the deceased does not provide
the person who caused the death a defense to criminal
responsibility. Is there a difference, do you think, between a
person who, at a dying person's request, prepares a poison and
leaves it on the bedside for that person to take, and a person
who helps the patient to drink it or who administers it
directly at the request of a dying person who is unable to take
it personally? Is there, in short, a real distinction between
killing and letting die? Well, this is the difference between
passive and active euthanasia, and if you believe in euthanasia,
you must decide which one is correct or even accept both to be
correct depending upon the situation.
We must carefully think through a number of conceptual
issues. What is a person? What is death? How does the
difference between active and passive function in arguments for
and against euthanasia? Is there any difference between killing
and letting die? Suppose the doctor agrees to withhold
treatment... The justification for his doing so is that the
patient is in terrible agony, and since he is going to die
anyway, it would be wrong to prolong his suffering needlessly.
But now notice this. If one simply withholds treatment, it may
take the patient longer to die, and so he may suffer more than he
would if more direct action were taken and a lethal injection
given. This fact provides strong reason for thinking that, once
the initial decision not to prolong his agony has been made,
active euthanasia is actually preferable to passive euthanasia,
rather than the reverse. Individuals have the right to decide
about their own lives and deaths. Denying terminally ill
patients the right to die with dignity is unfair and cruel. The
golden rule requires that we allow active euthanasia for
terminally ill patients who request it in certain situations.
People have the right to die with dignity and lucidity.
Gayle Stelter (Vancouver Sun) writes, "For almost seven
years I have been living with cancer, mostly joyously and
gratefully, but gradually seeing the disease encroaching
relentlessly on my once healthy body. Throughout these years, I
have thought long and hard about death and I've discovered
that it's not the prospect of death itself that is so
frightening, but the process of dying. So to give myself
courage, I have held an option in reserve. When I can see no
quality ahead, when I am capable of bidding my loved ones a
coherent farewell, when I am still in control of my resources, I
will enlist someone's help to speed me on my journey...
For those of us who may choose to leave while there is still an
element of control, of coherence, may we be fortunate to have a
friend, a loved one, a health professional who will use their
gifts in order that we may be excused. To deny such expert
guidance in this last rite would be both heartless and inhuman."
Another person I had read about states: "I have multiple
myeloma...a rare bone marrow cancer...[that] destroys the blood,
bones, immune system, kidneys and sometimes liver and spleen.
The worst of it is the disintegration of the skeleton...Unless
one is lucky enough to die of sepsis first, the death is long and
agonizing. The act of sitting up can fracture the vertebrae and
lifting the dinner tray can fracture both forearms. Who deserves
that? For what principle?"
I believe that there are some circumstances when euthanasia
is the morally