When is Now? Euthanasia and Morality


David Yu
Ewrt 1A-9C
12-19-94


"The third night that I roomed with Jack in our tiny double
room, in the solid-tumor ward of the cancer clinic of the
National Institute of Health in Maryland, a terrible thought
occurred to me. Jack had a melanoma in his belly, a malignant
solid tumor that the doctors guessed was the size of a softball.
The doctors planned to remove the tumor, but they knew Jack would
soon die. The cancer had now spread out of control. Jack, about
28, was in constant pain, and his doctor had prescribed an
intravenous shot, a pain killer, and this would control the pain
for perhaps two hours or a bit more. Then he would begin to moan,
or whimper, very low, as though he didn't want to wake me. Then
he would begin to howl, like a dog. When this happened, he would
ring for a nurse, and ask for the pain-killer. The third night
of his routine, a terrible thought occurred to me. 'If Jack were
a dog, I thought, what would be done to him?' The answer was
obvious: the pound, and the chloroform. No human being with a
spark of pity could let a living thing suffer so, to no good
end." (James Rachel's The Morality of Euthanasia)


The experience of Stewart Alsop, a respected journalist, who
died in 1975 of a rare form of cancer gave an example on the
morality of euthanasia. Before he died, he wrote movingly of his
experiences with another terminal patient. Although he had not
thought much about euthanasia before, he came to approve of it
after sharing a room with Jack. While growing up, each of us
learns a large number of rules of conduct. Which rules we
learn will depend on the kind of society we live in and the
parents and the friends we have. We may learn to be honest, to
be loyal, and to work hard. Sometimes we learn a rule without
understanding its point. In most cases this may work out, for
the rule may be designed to cover ordinary circumstances, but
when faced with unusual situations, we may be in trouble. This
situation is the same with moral rules. Without understanding
the rules, we may come to think of it as a mark of virtue that we
will not consider making exceptions to. We need a way of
understanding the morality against killing. The point is
not to preserve every living thing possible, but to protect the
interests of individuals to have the right of choice to die.
People who oppose euthanasia have argued constantly doctors
have often been known to miscalculate or to make mistakes. Death
is final and irreversible; in some cases doctors have wrongly
made diagnostic errors during a check-up. Patients being told
they have cancer or AIDS, by their doctors' mistake, have killed
themselves to avoid the pain. Gay-Williams, The Wrongfulness of
Euthanasia, stated:

"Contemporary medicine has high standards of excellence and
a proven record of accomplishment, but it does not possess
perfect and complete knowledge. A mistaken diagnosis is
possible. We may believe that we are dying of a disease
when, as a matter of fact, we may not be. . . ." (419)

Williams explains that patients who have been told by their
doctors they have cancer never actually had it. But there have
been so few cases reported that these remarks are often
considered to be speculations. The individual should have been
able to continue living until he felt the need to be confined to
a bed. I cannot disagree with the fact that doctors do make
mistakes, but they are more correct than they are wrong. Let's
say that the patient chooses not to die but instead takes the
medicines his doctor has prescribed for him. In doing so the
patient is choosing for himself. He's making his own decisions;
he could see other doctors to see if his illness had not been
mistakenly presented. Is it not for the individual to decide
whether she or he wants to live or die? John Stuart Mill, On
Liberty, expresses his view on individual rights:

"In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence
is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and
mind, the individual is sovereign." (629)

Those opposing euthanasia have also argued that practicing
euthanasia prevents the development of new cures and rules out
unpracticed methods in saving a life. Gay-Williams says:

"Also, there is always the possibility that an experimental
procedure or a hitherto untried technique will pull us
through. We should at