Should euthanasia (assisted suicide) be legal?Assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is only legal in two countries in the world: Belgium and the Netherlands. Assisted suicide means that someone else is...

Should euthanasia (assisted suicide) be legal?

Assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is only legal in two countries in the world: Belgium and the Netherlands. Assisted suicide means that someone else is allowed to help a person end their life when they have expressed the desire to die. In other countries, passive suicide is allowed, wherein the dying person refuses sustenance or breathing apparatuses. This is often a longer, slower, and more painful death than allowing a second party to administer life-ending measures. Should a person be allowed to designate someone to assist them die when all hope is lost for a meaningful life? How should “meaningful” be defined and who gets to define it?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a Christian, I believe that God is the giver and taker of life.  "There are over 60 scriptures in the Bible that refer to the sanctity of life."  Most memorable of these is "thou shalt not kill."  Euthanasia has many ethical questions that must be answered before mercy killing is legalized. 

First, does a person have the right to do with his body as he sees fit?  In some respects, yes.  If he is legally of age,  he can drink, smoke, tattoo his body, and so on.  On the other hand, prostitution is illegal in all states but Nevada (sin city) because it does not happen in a vacuum. There are societal spillovers. In the same vein, assisted suicide is not just a person making a decision to end his life; it is giving the right to end someone's life to a doctor, a relative, or guardian. This opens the door for abuse.   As in all societal questions, no one can promise that every time the rules will be followed. 

Secondly, if a person is terminally ill, who should decide when it is time to die? Is it the person himself, the doctor(s), or the family?  Each of these has  its own set of problems? For example, the family will be stressed and filled with anxiety.  Should they make that kind of decision? Who will make that decision? 

Today, modern medicines and pain killers are certainly effective.  Most dying people can be relieved of their pain.  There are hospices  that practice pain and symptom control so that a terminally ill person can die with dignity.  Quality of life does not mean that there will be no suffering or pain and that the person must be healthy, whole and happy all of the time.  In reality, no one has the answers to these questions. That is one of the primary reasons that assisted suicide should not be legalized. 

Could euthanasia translate to premature suicide?  Sometimes doctors get the diagnosis wrong.  What if the person is mentally ill or depressed? Should that person have the right to die when he chooses?  Studies have shown that euthanasia will apply more to women and minorities. In Dr. Kervorkian assisted suicides, 72% were women; of those women, 75% were not expected to die within six months and were still able to function within their homes.   Financial burdens will also play a part in the decision of  whether or not to die.  Rather than place a burden on the family, some would chose to die first.

Natural death does not require that extraordinary means are used when a person's vital processes have ceased to function.  When there is no hope, life support machines do not have to be used.  The goal should be to help the dying person to be as comfortable as possible until the natural death occurs. 

Legalizing euthanasia is a slippery slope. It is like opening up a can of worms. What will the ramifications be? What are the unintended consequences? Until all these questions have been answered, let us leave the time of death to God's will.



booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the many very difficult things about euthanasia (or "assisted suicide") is the question of when one human being has the right to take another person's life, even if it is requested by that person. While I believe it may be comfortable for some of us to adopt an attitude where this topic is concerned that killing is wrong (and I can see how this would be counter to many religions), I also believe that to watch someone (especially a loved one) die a lingering and painful death, and beg for release would make this a very different matter. It is hard to imagine this kind of suffering for me: I have been blessed. However, to be so ill that one is never out of pain—never—I cannot imagine forbidding that right to an individual. We have enforced mandatory enlistment into the armed services (during the Vietnam War, for instance) where young men did not want to die, but were selected and sent. Many never came home. We protect a person's right to bear arms—and these people have the power to take lives. People drink and drive and kill innocent people driving or walking, and I don't believe they are sent to jail for life, and they are certainly not executed. In the process of protecting the rights of so many, limiting the rights of others during wartime, and watching people rob others of their lives on a daily basis, how is it that a person does not have the right to end their own lives. If someone is completely paralyzed, he or she will need assistance to do this. I would hate to have to face this situation in any way, but I do believe that someone of sound mind should be able to choose to die. The religious aspect is between that person and his or her God, if that person has a faith. Certainly restrictions should apply where perhaps a panel of people in the health care field oversee this kind of procedure to make sure a person really wants to make this decision. Someone who is not of sound mind should not make this choice.

It is a hard question to answer, but I believe those who have been exposed to these kinds of difficulties would be the people to answer the question of the validity of such a practice.

If we could ever allow partial-birth abortions, failing to take into account the rights of a child that might well be able to exist outside its mother's body (also called "viable"), how can we sit back and judge an adult who chooses not to hurt others, but put him or herself out of abject misery? It all depends on which side of the proposition one is sitting, as with most controversial situations.

litlady33 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a difficult topic, and one on which I have a difficult time choosing a side. On one hand, I believe killing anyone is wrong. However, I also feel it is wrong to watch someone suffer. We put our pets out of their misery when they are suffering because it is the humane thing to do. Should humans be given the same respect?

There are many variables to consider when a person who is suffering chooses to have his/her life ended. Is that person of a sound mind? Is there truly no hope that the person's health can improve? This is where things get a bit complicated. 

I used to be completely against euthanasia. In my mind, it was okay to take away life support- or something that was unnaturally prolonging someone's life. But to administer some kind of procedure that would effectively kill someone when they otherwise could survive without any kind of aritifial life support, to me, was wrong. Then, I saw the film "You Don't Know Jack." It is about the "death doctor" Jack Kevorkian. Originally, I saw this man as a bad person who was killing people, but after seeing the film, my perspective changed. Of course, the film probably presents a biased view of assisted suicide, but it is interesting to watch if you are trying to make an argument on either side.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Personally, I have made it clear that if my life must be sustained through artificial means, those artificial means are not to be employed for longer than 7 days (if money is available to pay for even that period of time). I have never thought of this as euthanasia or any sort of suicide. I have thought of it as the natural course of things unhampered by humanistic ideals that value corporeal life over and above all things.

Again personally, I have often thought that as long as life naturally continues, there is the presence of relationship and where there is relationship, there is communication of love. I have consequentially thought that, when life continues naturally, suffering may well be sacrificed for relationship and the communication of love.

This is a tenuous position, I know, riddled with many, "But what if ..." conditions. Nonetheless, because of these thoughts, I've turned away from the idea that it is acceptable to end life by artificial, assisted means. Personally, so far, ending life artificially is as unacceptable as prolonging life artificially. Personally, I currently reject the appropriateness of both extremes.


Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While not something that I prefer to dwell on, I do have a strong stance on euthanasia.  Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are "endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness".  Jefferson certainly doesn't mention the right to die, but I would contend that when faced with a long, torturous death a person could defend euthanasia within the realm of pursuit of happiness. 

I believe that "meaningful" should be defined by the person in question.  I don't think I would ever elect to be a part of an assisted suicide, but I can understand why some people would see it as a logical choice.  When faced with exorbitant medical bills and unimaginable pain and suffering I believe a person should have the right to choose to pursue happiness by eliminating a miserable end to an otherwise wonderful life.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This opens up such a big can of worms.  In theory, you would think that people should have the basic human/natural right of defining whether their life continues to be worth living.  From that point of view, people should be allowed to define for themselves when their life is meaningful and should be allowed to end life when it stops being meaningful.  However, we then get into a situation where we are giving legal and, implicitly, moral sanction to people to end their lives on their own whims.  If we let people decide for themselves when life has ceased to be meaningful, we run the risk of sending the message that human life is very cheap and that we accept the idea that people should end it whenever they feel like doing so.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The moral, ethical, and practical dilemmas alluded to in post #5 are, indeed, the crux of this question. For instance, Who will make such decisions?  What criteria can be established for these decisions?

Rather than addressing this directly, perhaps consideration should be given to the forced keeping alive through medication such as exists in many nursing homes; that is, until the patient's money runs out.  Somehow, it seems that when people were allowed to die naturally, there were fewer situations which presented the question of assisted suicide. Of course, medication to ease pain is necessary, but other measures could be discontinued. Again, people are faced by the quandaries created by modern science....

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am also torn by this topic. I have a hard time with the idea of committing suicide (under any circumstances). That said, I can understand the strong feelings associated with terminal illness and the pain associated with it.

Under these circumstances, I would not harbor the same feelings against a person with a terminal illness as I would another person going through a depression (not to belittle clinical depression at all). I do feel that, sometimes, too many of our rights have been censored by the government. If a person is terminally ill, I believe that it should be up to them in regards to ending their life. (As a side note, I highly appreciate pohnpei's point of view regarding the cost of human life.)

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would advocate legalized euthanasia with proper written authorization from both the patient and physicians. I believe euthanasia should only be implemented in the case of terminal diseases or when a person is beset with constant and unalleviated pain, and the person or doctor who assists in the euthanized death should have the proper paperwork documented by the patient who desires to end his/her life.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the case of a painful, terminal disease, I'd find it difficult to deny someone the right to end their suffering. Nevertheless, I think I find it equally difficult to sanction the willful ending of one's life. I think I'd probably stick with the passive approach, but hopefully with enough painkiller to make the patient reasonably comfortable.

najm1947 | Student

I look at the whole situation slightly differently. One has to see whether it is willful termination of life i.e. assisted suicide or unnaturally prolonging the life of a terminally sick person through artificial breathing etc. There is a difference in the two situations. I have seen doctors putting terminally ill patients on breathing apparatus for indefinite duration to add to their bills. In such a case, I consider it to be an unethical practice and this must be stopped to let the person die naturally. Otherwise, I consider assisted suicide like entering the domain of God and would reject euthanasia. Let that person be helped with painkillers etc to make the remaining life as comfortable as possible.

angel-girl | Student

I feel it should be legal, but only under strict conditions.

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