Derived from the Greek language, the word ‘euthanasia’ refers to the act of consciously ending one’s life with the intention of relieving them from unbearable pain. The target group generally involves persons nearing the end of their life, mainly because of a terminal illness, but in extraordinary circumstances, it may also include those suffering from incurable mental illnesses. Upon request, the doctor administers a lethal dose to the patient thereby granting them a dignified end. Although illegal in the UK, the growing population in favour of it has made the issue of euthanasia one of the most hotly debated social matters, second to only abortion.
But you might think, how can this act of altruism, which is often desired by the patients in palliative care, be illegal in the first place? To understand this, we must dive deeper into the arguments made by those against it. Often denoted as a slippery slope, critics argue that legalization may pave the way for the attitude that instant end is better than prolonging suffering which is often believed to drain the resources of health services, giving doctors too much power. They also argue that the vulnerable patient’s decision to be euthanised may be heavily influenced by pressure put upon them by selfish families. Criticism is also stark from the religious communities who believe that it is wrong to end your own life given that those on the brink of death are presented with the opportunity for a moment of healthy self-reflection that comes from suffering at the end of your time. But none of these criticisms come close to the one presented by those who practice the art of medicine as less than 50% of practicing doctors are in support of the notion of euthanasia. This reluctance mainly stems from the fear of prosecution on the charge of murder based on wrongful termination of patient mainly due to an incorrect diagnosis of the patient’s condition. We must realise that extraordinary things do happen and those in pain now may feel better or adapt to it later in life. The situation becomes even more complex when we consider patients who have given a written directive instructing the doctors to euthanise them should their condition later in life deteriorate, to the point that they lose their ability to rationally decide.
But not all hope is lost, 82% of the public support the idea of euthanasia. Some compelling arguments have also been put forward that blow most of the criticism away. They contend that euthanasia will never be legalized without control mechanisms that effectively deals with the problem of misuse by cost-conscious doctors. It is also maintained that religious arguments are not of utmost importance to people, especially during a time of suffering. Those who may want to adhere to these principles may do so, but it should not come at a cost of depriving others of a dignified death. A utilitarian argument which aims for highest happiness implies that there are more people who will be happier if the pro-euthanasia law comes into effect than those who would not be.
Personally, I believe that small steps lead to big changes. We can start by legalizing assisted suicide first and gauge its cost and effect, and if beneficial, it could pave a way towards legalization of euthanasia.
by Vipul Bhatia