Should voluntary, active euthanasia be legalized in Canada? Human beings just like other life forms are susceptible to illness. As we know many diseases bring about excruciating amount of pain and make living very difficult. Many people would rather end their life rather than live it with pain and this has led to the notion of Euthanasia. Euthanasia means “painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable disease or in an irreversible coma” (AskOxford). It is derived from Greek – ‘eu’ which means ‘well’ and ‘thanatos’ which means ‘death’ (AskOxford).
Today the term euthanasia holds a deeper and more complicated meaning and has become a controversial topic. When we talk about euthanasia, different scenarios come to mind. Each scenario requires more clarification and a different perspective. For example, a terminally ill person living on a respirator cannot express his will about euthanasia. Moreover, this person does not have anyone authorized to make a decision about euthanasia. In this case one needs to further categorize the scenario into a specific class. Euthanasia can be classified as active or passive euthanasia and either voluntary or involuntary.
The discussion of the essay is strictly related to active voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia is “active” when performed by an act (Boetzkes and Waluchow 390). In other words, an action is done that speeds up the death of a dying person who is suffering intolerably. Euthanasia is “voluntary” when it is carried out at the patient’s request (Boetzkes and Waluchow 390). Voluntary-active euthanasia is similar to physician assisted suicide (PAS). The debate for legalizing voluntary active euthanasia has been going on for many years now in different parts of the world.
However, there are only a few countries that have made euthanasia legal. Canada is a country that recognizes and respects individual’s freedom and autonomy. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives Canadian’s essential civil and political rights. If a terminally ill person wishes to terminate his or her life, then we should respect that decision. It is their life and their decision in any case. If a person disagrees with voluntary active euthanasia for whatever reason, he/she does not have to exercise it. It all comes down to choice.
As the famous philosopher, Immanuel Kant states that we should respect the autonomy of a person if we want to respect that person (Boetzkes and Waluchow 20). As a result, under specific requirements and strict procedures, I believe that a person should have a choice to decide when and how they die. Finally, Canada should legalize voluntary active euthanasia. During the course of life, a person makes countless decisions from which some are good and others bad. For each of the decisions that a person makes, he or she takes responsibility of its outcome.
People often make important decisions that directly affect their lives depending on how and where they want their lives to go. John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century utilitarian gives the following example in his book On Liberty: “if either a public officer or anyone else saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and turn him back without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river” (Mill 118).
In the previous example, John Stuart Mill argues that a person himself can make the best decision or judgment considering his or her own circumstances and interest (Mill 118). He further goes to say that if the person is capable of making decisions then we should also allow that person to make decision about whether or not their life is worth living. According to the Utilitarian approach an action as right or wrong depending on an assessment of its consequences (Boetzkes and Waluchow 12). Changing the law to allow voluntary euthanasia or helping someone to end their life depends on its consequence.
If the consequence is better as a whole then voluntary euthanasia is permissible. Kant’s third formulation of the Categorical Imperative states that “to act freely on the basis of reasons, is what gives rational beings their dignity and worth. ” (Boetzkes and Waluchow 20) He also says that we should respect the autonomy and freedom of the person (Boetzkes and Waluchow 20). We should respect the decision and autonomy of a terminally ill person who requested voluntary euthanasia if dying of the person does no harm to others. There are many patients who are terminally ill and go through unbearable suffering.
Sue Rodriguez, a Victoria woman, is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Her life expectancy is 3 to 15 months. At the later stages of the disease, she would be unable to control her limbs or even swallow an overdose of medication. When she reaches this stage, she would not be able to do anything physically including taking her own life. She says that being in such a state would violate her sense of dignity and she would like to avoid this by committing suicide. However, with further reasoning she does not want to commit suicide. Kluge 1015–1017). As a result, she is left with only two following options: either she could suffer from the disease and wait for painful undignified death or commit suicide before she becomes physically disabled by facing unwanted early death. The Supreme Court of Canada did not allow Rodriguez to do assisted suicide. Nevertheless, with the help of an anonymous doctor she committed suicide in 1994 (The fight for the right to die). By rejecting the autonomous choice of the person violates the principle of autonomy and respect for the person.
As we saw in Rodriguez’s case, some terminally ill patients who are denied voluntary euthanasia may find suicide as a solution to their suffering. The suicide may be painful, messy and sometimes unsuccessful. The attempt will not only cause them more pain and suffering but it will also bring paint and suffering to all others connected to them. On other hand, opposition of voluntary euthanasia argues that people who wish to be killed swiftly are not courageous enough to go through the suffering and pain involved in their death.
This argument itself is a weak argument because all people who take pain relief products are not cowards. They take pain relief so that they can relieve the pain and go back to their normal work. Therefore, it makes no sense to talk about courage to withstand intolerable pain. Another reason to oppose voluntary euthanasia is depression. M. L. S. Vachon argues that “in terminally ill people, a wish to die is a manifestation of depression and should be always treated accordingly” (Vachon 319). According to him certain type and stage of disease is a criteria for major depression.
He also says that physicians and nurses do not have skill to recognize depression (Vachon 319). In such cases, we should take precautionary step to make sure they are not feeling depressed. Any patient who desires voluntary euthanasia should be examined properly for depression. There are others often present the “slippery slope” argument (Boetzkes and Waluchow 374) against euthanasia which is the misuse of voluntary euthanasia for their own benefit. There are cases where a patient is burdensome for his/her family or health care providers want to make money.
Legalizing of active euthanasia may lead to pressurizing vulnerable patients to give consent for voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide even though they may not want to give their consent. Through case studies, we know that there is no major evidence of misused volunteer euthanasia. According to Death with Dignity Act Annual Report 2008 of Oregon, there are no cases where a patient is pressurized to give consent. Death with Dignity Act Annual Report 2008 for year 11 shows that 88 prescriptions for lethal medications were written.
From those patients, 97 percent of patients had some form of health insurance and 2 referrals were made to the Oregon Medical Board for incorrectly completed reporting forms. However, the Oregon Medical Board found no violations of “good faith compliance” with the Act and did not sanction any physicians for “unprofessional conduct” regarding the Act. (2008 Summary of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act) Hence, by making strict law and setting requirements and procedures, coercion and misuse of voluntary euthanasia can be stopped.
Therefore, through close supervision and aid, the slippery slope argument can be overcome and legalizing the voluntary euthanasia will not have any effect. Another implication that can arise from legalizing euthanasia is the role of doctors in the health profession. A doctor is a licensed medical practitioner who saves lives. This role of the doctor would be switched by legalizing euthanasia. First, a doctor should be always committed to the welfare of the patient. That involves trying to show patients how to live long and healthy lives.
However, the patient should have a choice between quality of life and length of the life. The role of the doctor should be to give all options and discuss their consequences to help the patient make the choice. The doctor should not decide the course of life for the patient but rather, help to improve the life respecting the choice they make along the way. Furthermore, it is argued that most of the pain can be minimized using modern methods. This could help patients avoid having to make the decision of voluntary euthanasia.
However, this is only true for some illnesses. In addition, our bodies get used to the drugs overtime making the effect less effective. For disabled patients, even if the pain is relieved, he/she may not find life worth living in that state. Finally, there are pros and cons for euthanasia. I believe voluntary active euthanasia should be legalized. A person should be allowed to make decisions about their lives on their own. We must respect the decisions others make especially if it involves the betterment for the person.
I also think that voluntary euthanasia is not always the right solution for terminally ill people. We should always try to relieve the pain as much as possible and provide treatment for depression if needed to avoid voluntary active euthanasia. The specific requirements and strict procedures should be made to ensure the integrity of voluntary euthanasia. Bibliography 2008 Summary of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Annual Report. Oregon: Oregon Government, 2009. AskOxford. AskOxford: euthanasia. July 2009. 19 July 2009 . Boetzkes, Elisabeth Airini and Wilfrid J. Waluchow. Readings in Health Care Ethics. Broadview Press, 2000. Kluge, E. H. “Doctors, death and Sue Rodriguez. ” PubMed Central (1993): 1015–1017. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Forgotton Books, 2008. The fight for the right to die. 9 February 2009 . 20 July 2009 . Vachon, M. L. S. “In the Terminally Ill, a Wish to Die is a Manifestation of Depression and Should be Treated Accordingly. ” Clinical Oncology (2004): 319-320.