Is Mercy Death and Mercy Killing Morally Justifiable?

The Morality of Assisted Suicide

Death is the ultimate subject most people would prefer to avoid. With the increase in the average life expectancy people are living longer and as a result, developing more illnesses. As we age, or watch parents or other loved ones age and struggle with serious illnesses, we are faced with the unpleasant reality that death is inevitable - and in rare cases, we’re left with having to make moral decisions regarding their final days. Families that have researched the benefits of advance directives have already considered these options which include the preservation of a loved one's dignity at the end of life.

The inability of the victim to participate in the decision making process complicates the issue even more. For example, someone who is unconscious, in a coma, or who has dementia or a mental disorder does not have the ability to decide whether to accept or deny medical treatment. All states have health care advance directives allowing a person to designate someone else (usually a family member) to make medical decision in the event one can no longer make that decision. Living wills, although limited in their legal form does allow someone to express wishes pertaining to the end-of-life. Most states have set their own standards for who can decide to forgo treatment or nutrition and when, if no advance directive documents have been completed. Permission to withdraw treatment may be determined from a person's known wishes or his best interests (usually based on an assessment of medical burden, religious values and treatment goals).

Allowing someone to die through mercy death, and mercy killing is a critical decision which a family member should have the right to make on behalf of an incapacitated member. However, if impossible, this decision must be a decision of the member prior to the incident. In cases of unexpected accidents or situations where the victim can not make the decision, and no prior arrangements has been made then a family member must have the authority to make a moral decision given the facts of the situation

There are various methods to consider in taking a human life. I will attempt to explore a few of these methods and distinguish their individual properties by providing and explanation for each. These methods are:

Murder: The act of unlawfully killing a human being especially with malice.

Suicide: The act of killing oneself intentionally.

Accident/Natural Disaster: The act of taking a human life accidentally or as a result of a natural disaster.

Abortion: The act of taking a human life by induced termination of a pregnancy prematurely.

War/Terrorism: The act of taking a human life through armed conflict between nations.

Euthanasia: The act of taking the human life of a suffering individual, painlessly for reasons considered merciful.

Self-defense: The act of taking a life through the self-defense of oneself.

Capital Punishment: The taking of a human life for retribution of a crime such as murder.

Health/Disease: The act of taking a human life due to irreversible health of disease problems.

Each of the methods in the list above provides both an argument for and against the implementation of such actions. Although it is very difficult to define a reasonable and moral justification for any of the actions above, society however, has created a system, either right or wrong, whereby certain methods of taking a human life is acceptable. Such methods include passive euthanasia due to health, disease, or other unexpected life threatening conditions, which are considered forms of conscientious mercy killing. In any prudent moral society there exist laws governing the actions of individuals involved in the taking of a human life. These actions range from country to country, from government to government, and they all have one thing in common; they are punishable, tolerated, or supported by law.

My argument is for the acceptability of taken a human life via the method of passive Euthanasia resulting from poor health, an irreversible disease, or an unexpected life threatening incident. This method would be recommended to peacefully end the life of a suffering individual, painlessly for reasons considered merciful.

In order to better comprehend the strategy of this argument we need to first understand the multiple, complex implications of the selected subject.The subject; Allowing Someone to Die, Mercy Death, and Mercy Killing, is in actuallity a three part subject –each having its very own properties, requiring different degrees of actions. The first part of the title, Allowing Someone to Die means ‘allowing a dying patient to die a natural death without interference from medical science and technology’. The second part of the subject; Mercy Death, or assisted suicide means ‘taking direct action to terminate a patient's life because the patient has voluntarily requested it’. The third and final part of the subject; Mercy Killing means ‘taking direct action to terminate a patient's life with or without his/her permission. Justification for each action is very clear, according to the law, and the actions of any individual participating should be carefully monitored by local, state, and federal laws.My position is in support of the combined subject with an emphasis on the second part, Mercy Death or passive euthanasia and selected aspects of the third part. The first part is an area of great moral concern which would be very difficult to implement without prior consent.

Before I proceed I must make it clear that I am a strong supporter of the medical establishment responsibility, and commitment in creating medicines or other forms of treatment for seriously ill patients rather than helping them or allowing a family member to take their life. Mercy Death or assisted suicide should be the very last alternative. Kathleen M. Foley, author of “Competent Care for the Dying Instead of Physician-Assisted Suicide - 1993” made the following observation which is a quote from the New England Journal Of Medicine regarding physician assisted suicide; “The lack of training in the care of the dying is evident in practice. Several studies have concluded that poor communication between physicians and patients, physician’s lack of knowledge about national guidelines for such care, and their lack of knowledge about the control of symptoms are barriers to the provision of good care at the end of life.”

This profound statement has its merits in the number of assisted suicide cases which could have been avoided if proper treatment was administered. However in the area of irreversible illness such as cancer, or accidents where the patient becomes mentally incompetent or the quality of life diminishes, the individual should be allowed to exercise the right to die rather than experience uncontrollable pain and discomfort, particularly if the outcome of their condition is death. For family members placed in charge of such decisions the action to terminate a life must be made with credible medical evidence which, without a doubt proves no other option. The question one has to ask is at what point do you pull the plug? Inferences, assumptions, inductive reasoning, or opinions has no part in the decision making process. All decisions must be based on sound medical facts. The following scenarios are submitted as examples where I feel Mercy Death or assisted suicide is acceptable.

Scenario #1:

A 56 year old man has been diagnosed with brain tumor. The examination showed general neurologic changes that were specific to the location of the tumor. His tumor did not show symptoms until it was very large and began to cause rapid neurologic decline. Several operations were performed but the tumor grew larger after each operation. The final diagnosis was that the spread of the tumor was not preventable and as a result the tumor has dominated the neurological functions to the point where the patient had to be placed on morphine and is given a few days to live. What were the options? Keep the patient on life support for a condition which the result was death, or relieve the patient of the suffering through assisted suicide? It would be different if the patient was simply in a comma. There is ample medical documentation which shows that patients do recover from commas. However, in the case of cancer where the result is death, and the patient has lived a full life, then one must honor the final request for assisted suicide, if the request was made. If not then a decision must be made in the best interest of the patient.

Scenario #2

A 32 year old male was working beneath his automobile and the automobile came crashing down on him. The automobile fell on his head crushing his scull, the chest cavity, breaking both arms, and damaging his hip joints. The victim was discovered hours later but is still alive. He is rushed to the hospital but is declared initially brain dead although he does have a pulse. The family is informed that he has a 15% chance of surviving, and if he does survive, he will remain in a vegetable state for the remaining of his life, forever requiring life support systems, regular operations and total care. The family met and agreed to keep him on life support for as long as they could or until he no longer show signs of progress. Three months pass and the patient’s condition deteriorates to the point where the doctor encourages the family to prepare for the final moment. The family prayed and decided to cease all life support and let the patient die. They signed all the necessary paperwork and the process of euthanasia began by the doctor, at the request of the family. What were the options?

The scenarios above are both personal experiences.

They demonstrate the difficulties in terminating a life however, certain situations may make the decision less painful. In the event of unplanned tragedies, as in scenario #2 it would be out of respect for human dignity that the victim be given the right to die a peaceful, painless death and spare the family the emotional and financial strain. On the other hand, this decision has many open ends and loopholes, and too many opportunities for abuse and ruined lives. Any form of euthanasia in itself, should not be used as an individual's legal ‘right to die'. After all, it is a very dangerous and serious practice. Although some people would benefit from help in dying, a greater number would be vulnerable to potential abuse from such decisions. To prevent this, it is imperative that the medical and legal establishment, to include society as a whole take an interest in exhausting all options for adequate medical treatment.

In conclusion, terminally ill patients should have the right to choose, or have chosen for them, a form of Mercy Death, or passive euthanasia as a viable legal and medical option. In many situations this choice serves the interests of all members involved. It demonstrates a high sense of mercy towards the ill patient while helping the family with emotional and financial strains. Denying this choice is denying the patient a dignified, painless end and possibly their personal freedoms. In the area of Mercy Death we have a moral responsibility to respect and cultivate the positive aspects of the death experience for those we love. The Supreme Court is currently re-evaluating the decisions by the Second and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals which bans the use of assisted suicide. This re-evaluation has provided an opportunity for dialog among all interested parties and will assist society in properly dealing with the requests, needs, and dignity of dying patients. While there is sound evidence against Mercy Death or assisted suicide from a legalistic point of view, there is equal evidence in support from a medical perspective. In a perfect society, assisted death would not be needed. But in an imperfect society, in which we live, the reality is that certain circumstances calls for it, and in some cases even requires it.


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Comments 30 comments

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

A very compelling argument. I know I would not want to be a burden on my family, but would want my life terminated rather than continue to exist without meaningful participation in my life and the lives of my loved ones. Thank you for writing this thoughtful and courageous hub.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Hi Tom: Thanks for the comment. It truly is a touchy subject. Like you I would not want to continue living in a vegetable state. On the other hand I pray that I would never experience the opportunity to determine if I wanted the plug pulled or not - to pull the plug on someone else. The thought itself is a scary one. My prayers are with those in that situation.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

JB, you dropped two good ones at the same time, and this one slipped past my radar. 3 out out my 4 grandparents have passed and at one time or another I had to live with each. For all three of them there was many conversations of letting the treatment go, no more meds, no more machines talk, and often the family was divided and great animosity arose and it became a competition of sorts to see "who loved" more. Being a grandchild, although one of the oldest, I didn't get involved much in the arguments, I did say, God will take them when he's ready, and its time to say good bye. In two of the cases, when the machines and meds were stopped they passed that day. In one case, my most recent experience, my grandfather was supposedly on his death bed. They kept the machines on and he recovered. And everyone laughed at how tough the old bastard was. They took him off the machines and two days later he died in his sleep. But everyone had said goodbye and he went out the way he wanted.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Compassion for suffering and real mercy dictate letting a life go, when it's time.  Morally speaking, our concern for our loved ones should be as compassionate as our concern for our pets -- i.e. society has no qualms about ending the suffering of animals with irreversible diseases or injuries.  It would be good if we could afford human beings the same compassion.  Of course, every single case has its own merits, and no one should ever rush to conclude a life unless it is clear that doing so will end pain and cease suffering that would otherwise prolong life needlessly in a tortured state. It is the responsibility of doctors and medical staff to save lives, but where there are no families to advise the doctors, perhaps a case could be made for a patient advocate -- someone unconnected with the hospital or medical service in question -- to be allowed to let the patient go. 

Dang it, J -- you sure choose the tough questions to debate!  Thanks for the great hub, it's very thoughtfully written.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Goldentoad: WOW - that must have been a life changing experience to witness the situation from both perspectives! Really sends one on a soul searching mission. Scenario #1 was my father who's second wife (without telling his kids) apparently told the doctor to pull the plug. At first I was upset but considering his situation I learned to live with her decision. I just wished she had included the rest of the family. We were certainly old enough at the time of his death to make a prudent judgement. However looking backwards - I don't know what decision I would have made and glad that I didin't have to make it.

Thanks for the response man!


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Teresa: Thanks for the feedback. Read my response to goldentoad regarding my father, and his grandparents (goldentoad - if I may use them in this response). Life is full of twists, turns, and the unexpected which I am certain you're aware of. Every minute is an opportunity for a controversial decision. I agree, sometimes compassion is letting go.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

fantastic hub.

I strongly oppose the idea that "life" in the sense of just breathing (sometimes with help from a machine) is worth preserving at all costs.

In the UK, suicide is legal, but assisting a suicide is quite a serious offence. There have been several hundred cases over the past few years of British people going to Dignitas, a Swiss assisted suicide clinic. I support such clinics, if properly run and managed.

"I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul"


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

LondonGirl: Thanks for the comment. So its illegal for both doctors and family members to assist? What if the individual included an'assistant' clause in their will?


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

No, it's illegal, full stop.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

LondonGirl: Interesting! Thanks for sharing.


gwendymom profile image

gwendymom 7 years ago from Oklahoma

Intersting hub. I agree that I would not want to live (if that what you would call it) in a vegatative state. It's a burden for everyone.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

gwendymom: The thought alone scares me!


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

See this artcile for a legal decision in the last week on the issue:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7898816.stm


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

WOW, The British justice system is very strict on this subject.  I now better understand your previous comments. This is a real tricky issue.  What if a person decided to take their life without telling their spouse.  It would appear that the spouse could still be charged, if the courts concluded that he/she was in any way involved.   Then again, in this particular case, perhaps the probability that her husband could be charged may be enough for her to cease the effort to take her life.   What was the outcome of this case?  Did she eventually go through with it?


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

In effect, it doesn't happen that much.

The Court of Appeal only decided that case this week - so she's still alive.

Of all the British people who accompanied relatives / friends to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, none have yet been charged. But the court wouldn't give any promises about the woman's husband.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

It's good that none have been charged but the current case is interesting and worth following.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

DEfinintely. My guess is it will be appealed further, but we'll have to wait and see.

I know someone who went with a relative to Dignitas in Switzerland. He was arrested and questioned by the Swiss police afterwards, and released wtihout charge. The UK police didn't pay any attention.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Perhaps the crime is low on their list for persecution - or - the police were sympathizers. Either way, it was a good thing for the person involved but they probably should not push their luck!


10zc 6 years ago

It's great for you to write down here about your thoughts & feelings. I believed that me myself also do not want to see a person being a vegetable or having terminal illness as it'll became a very huge burden towards your loved ones & friends beside you.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

10zc - my apologied for the late response but thsanks for stopping by and commenting. I suspect it would be very difficult for the victim, psrticularly if they're somewhat conscious.


Dawn 6 years ago

I cant help but read the post or comments that have been made on this Mercy death or what have you as a young adult who has just recentley lost my father do to a mercy killing I am not sure of my opinion on it my father was terminaly ill yes but this decition was made by another person and was never told to the rest of the family 2 months later we learn that this is what went on with my dad and not by his desition I dont know if I agree with these plans of action it shouldn't be our desition to end a life for that is Gods choice and shouldn't be mans. How ever if I had to support this theary I think a law should be made to support and involve all children in the persons life so there not shocked to find out that some one ordered for a person loved one or parents death


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

Dawn - Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am touched by your story and I offer my codelences for the lost of your father. I am in agreement with you that the entire family should have been involved in the decision making proccess to determine your father's outcome. That must have been a painful experience.

I too experienced a similar situation with my father as his wife made the decision without the input of his grown kids. We were really upset but had little options to change the decision.

I pray that all is well with you and your siblings.


danry pacala 5 years ago

...amvot nin.u oi... la man gani nin.u getubag ag aqoh pangutana....huhuhuhu....


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 5 years ago from United States of America Author

danry pacala - thanks for stopping by and commenting.


AWG 5 years ago

I am doing a research paper I just need to know which 3 states allow mercy death?


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 5 years ago from United States of America Author

AWG - Thanks for stopping by. At the time I compose this article Mercy Killing/Euthanasia was illegal in all US States. However, physician assisted suicide, which involve prescribing, but not administering lethal drugs -is legal in the state of Oregon, Montana and Washington.

I hope this info helps. I wish you the greatest success on your research.


Ryan747 4 years ago

Hey JB, im writing an essay on murder vs mercy in of mice and men and I am using this article in my essay, and im having trouble citing you in MLA format, could you by any chance provide me with your last name please?


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 4 years ago from United States of America Author

Ryan747 - my alologies for the late response. I am humbled that you want to cite this article in your essay. My full name is James Brown. I wish you the best.


mona 4 years ago

in my society, the issue had never been raised and i had never heared of any of the assumed scenarios, but sure they are likely to happen. so may be my comment is deeply affected by my culture. but my self, i believe in destiny, and may be a big wisdom is lying behind wat seems to be a big disaster or horrible untolerable life. even apart from destiny, i do believe life is sooo preciuos even if horrible. finally it was proven medically lately that in some comma cases, the patient came back to life right after making the decision of merciful killing. i know the focus here is on other more confusing situations but even in this case i would prefer to wait for a miracle than to lose hope and surrender in peace to the black scenario.


jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 18 months ago from United States of America Author

Hi Mona - it is a tough call. If I was the patient I often wonder what my choice would be? Would I want to endure the pain in hope for a cure - or would I prefer to put to death knowing the end result is death? I often wonder. Thanks for the feedback.

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