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.
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.
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.