Formal Writing – Euthanasia

Below is my finished formal writing piece.

Euthanasia & the Value of Human Life

Aged 25, Lance Armstrong was given a shocking diagnosis. Advanced testicular cancer had spread throughout his body, including his lungs and brain. Both Armstrong and his doctors were convinced that his death was imminent. Armstrong himself was sure to have considered euthanasia, to make what seemed to be his inevitable death as fast and painless as possible. However, Armstrong underwent two months of intensive treatment to eradicate the tumours from his body, which, against all odds, was successful. Following this miracle, he went on to make a triumphant return to elite cycling. It is very important to consider how much of a loss it would have been if Armstrong had decided to end the agony he was in by requesting euthanasia, had it been legal at the time.

Euthanasia is a deeply polarising issue within modern day society, and there are many passionate groups throughout the world dedicated to promoting or opposing it. Although the exact meaning varies from person to person, I believe that a general definition of euthanasia is that it is the intentional taking of a human life in order to relieve intractable pain or suffering. Currently, all forms of euthanasia are illegal in more than 90% of the world’s countries including New Zealand, for very sound reasons. In my opinion, euthanasia is a controversial and dangerous practice that should not have a place in our rapidly advancing world and efforts to gather support for the legalisation of euthanasia should be vigorously opposed. I firmly believe that euthanasia should remain banned in New Zealand, for the reasons that euthanasia is never a person’s only viable option, that some people may request euthanasia for the wrong reasons, and that there is always a chance of a person in whom death seems inevitable recovering.

Supporters of euthanasia want to legalise the ending of a patient’s life if they are suffering severe and uncontrollable pain. Pain is a complex and multifaceted sensation. There are many forms of treatment that help to alleviate the pain of those with a terminal illness. Some strong painkillers cause sedation, and when all else fails large dosages of such medication may be given, that can have the effect of stopping the patient’s breathing. It may occasionally happen that in an attempt to relieve the pain the patient may stop breathing and this may hasten their death. It is important to understand that this is not euthanasia, as the intention is not to kill the patient, but rather to relieve their pain.

Euthanasia deprives people with chronic health conditions of the ability to change their mind about whether they would like to continue living or not. It is not uncommon for people to change their mind about wanting to die. Throughout his life, my grandfather, a fiercely independent, strong-willed man who worked until the age of 82, regularly stated that he would ‘rather be shot’ than lose his independence and move into a rest home. He was so adamant, we believed him, and as a result, when his health deteriorated, my uncle removed his guns from his home. However, when he was diagnosed with a terminal condition that required around-the-clock care, he fought for every day that he was given. He no longer talked about wanting to be shot in the two years he spent in the rest home, and never lost the will to live. I am so pleased that my grandfather was able to continue living for another two years because this gave us the time to get to know each other better. This is another reason why it is never in someone’s best interest to undergo euthanasia – they may feel that they would rather be dead than in a state of suffering one day, but have the desire to keep living at a later point in their illness.

There may be other treatable issues besides pain that drive people to request euthanasia, such as depression or mental health problems. Depression can magnify a person’s pain and suffering, so if it is treated they may regain the will to live and make the most of whatever time they have left. Other mental health problems may impair the person’s judgement and in such a case it would be inappropriate to proceed with euthanasia.

In the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legalised, a recent case has troubled ethicists. A woman, aged 20, who was a victim of prolonged sexual abuse and consequently suffered multiple severe mental conditions as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, requested euthanasia. Her appeal to be euthanased was subsequently granted. This caused widespread concern throughout the world, where many believed that it was immoral to euthanase her. This was because her condition was not terminal and with appropriate treatment could most likely have been managed. As she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, along with chronic depression, it is arguable that she was not in sound mind to make such a decision. It is most concerning to me that mental health professionals would see euthanasia as a solution to the suffering that results from sexual abuse. This helps to support the argument that legalising euthanasia is dangerous and open to misuse.

Therefore, euthanasia is never the only viable option for any patient, and it is open to abuse by medical professionals.

Legalising euthanasia would inevitably cause some vulnerable people to take their lives for what I firmly believe are the wrong reasons. Many elderly and disabled people would feel guilt towards their loved ones funding their often expensive treatment and supporting them physically and emotionally, prompting them to request euthanasia. However, I feel that if these people are allowed to undergo euthanasia it would be morally wrong. This is because the values of the lives of every individual are equal, regardless of physical health, mental state or age, and legalising euthanasia implies that this is not the case. Advocates of euthanasia argue that rigorous safeguards can be put into place to prevent people requesting euthanasia out of guilt. However, in practice it is impossible to know whether a terminally ill person requesting euthanasia is doing so because of intractable pain and suffering, or because they feel they have become a burden to others.

Many euthanasia advocates claim that if euthanasia were to be legalised, family members would be unable to dictate whether a patient was euthanased or not. However, in practice this rule would be difficult to enforce because family members could still privately coerce the patient to undergo euthanasia, without being seen to have affected their decision. This is dangerous because some people are likely to convince their relatives to undergo euthanasia so as to inherit money, or to stop paying for expensive treatment, which is extremely immoral and dangerously close to murder.

There is always a chance, no matter how small, that a person may recover from what was deemed to be a terminal illness. Our world is rapidly advancing; new treatments for previously incurable illnesses are being developed at an increasingly fast rate. A high profile example of a person saved from the brink of death by a newly developed drug is Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the USA. Carter was diagnosed with melanoma in 2015, which had spread to his liver and brain. However, shortly after being told he had only several weeks left to suffer through, Carter was introduced to a breakthrough cancer drug, Keytruda, which, after only four sessions, had completely eradicated the tumors from his body. To me, this is astounding, and shows the power of modern medicine to save people from the brink of death. This also shows that no matter how dire the situation a terminally ill patient is in, there is always hope that they can be saved. Therefore, I strongly believe that this is an important argument against euthanasia. If euthanasia were to be legalised, how many people would take their own lives because they were suffering from a seemingly incurable disease, only for a revolutionary treatment for it to be announced several days or weeks later?

Medical professionals make mistakes. It is not as unusual as is commonly thought for an incorrect diagnosis to be made, resulting in a patient being told that they have a terminal illness and that they have only several weeks to live. If euthanasia were to be legalised, it is quite possible that many people would request it while under the impression they were suffering from a terminal illness, only for it to turn out after their death that this was incorrect. This would be a huge and unnecessary loss of life, and both the family members of the deceased person, as well as the doctors that approved their request to be euthanased, would almost certainly feel immense guilt for the rest of their lives.

A close family friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer several years ago, and was given a matter of weeks to live. During this time, she busied herself making arrangements as to the situation her children would be placed in after she passed away, and turned down a job due to the severity of her condition. However, several days before doctors expected her to pass away, it was discovered that a terrible mistake had been made. She had been misdiagnosed and actually had glandular fever, a non fatal illness that is easily recovered from. To me, this is a clear example that shows how doctors can make serious mistakes that can completely change the lives of their patients, and shows that euthanasia should never be practiced in any form, because there is always the possibility of a person being misdiagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently being euthanased.

It is also important to note that every patient’s response to treatment for a given condition is different and unpredictable. Lance Armstrong’s miraculous recovery after being given treatment for his cancer was completely unprecedented. The treatment he was given was fairly standard and had been used for a long time before he underwent it. Doctors simply didn’t expect him to live given the severity of his condition. To me, this shows that there is always a possibility of a patient recovering from any condition, and so for a patient to be euthanased is to deprive them of an opportunity, no matter how small, to survive and live a long life.

Because of the negativity surrounding the deliberate taking of a life in our society, euthanasia is not often discussed, and as a consequence the majority of people have not given it the consideration it deserves. Instead, they make a judgment about euthanasia based solely on their emotions, rather than considering the factual material related to it. I strongly think that all New Zealanders should form a reasonable opinion about euthanasia so they are prepared to vote for or against it, should the opportunity arise.

After studying the subject, I firmly believe that New Zealand should not allow the practice of euthanasia to be legalised. There are far better alternative steps New Zealand as a nation can take to assist those with chronic health conditions, such as improving palliative care, subsidising treatments and upgrading the quality of rest homes for elderly people with these conditions. Our aim should be to have a good life, rather than a good death.

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References:

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