Euthanasia is one of the most acute and uncomfortable contemporary
problems in medical ethics. Is Euthanasia Ethical? The case for euthanasia
rests on one main fundamental moral principle: mercy.
It is not a new issue; euthanasia has been discussed-and practised-in
both Eastern and Western cultures from the earliest historical times to the
present. But because of medicine's new technological capacities to extend life,
the problem is much more pressing than it has in the past, and both the
discussion and practice of euthanasia are more widespread.
Euthanasia is a way of granting mercy-both by direct killing and by
letting the person die. This principle of mercy establishes two component
duties: 1. the duty not to cause further pain or suffering; and 2. the duty to
act to end pain or suffering already occurring. Under the first of these, for a
physician or other caregiver to extend mercy to a suffering patient may mean to
refrain from procedures that cause further suffering-provided, of course, that
the treatment offers the patient no overriding benefits. The physician must
refrain from ordering painful tests, therapies, or surgical procedures when they
cannot alleviate suffering or contribute to a patient's improvement or cure.
Perhaps the most familiar contemporary medical example is the treatment of burn
victims when survival is unprecedented; if with the treatments or without them
the chances of the patient's survival is nil, mercy requires the physician not
to impose the debridement treatments , which are excruciatingly painful, when
they can provide the patie...
... middle of paper ...
...rom inattention, malevence, fears of addiction, or divergent priorities
In all of these cases, of course, the patient can be sedated into
unconsciousness; this does indeed end the pain. But in respect of the patient's
experience, this is tantamount to causing death: the patient has no further
conscious experience and thus can achieve no goods, experience no significant
communication, satisfy no goals. Furthermore, adequate sedation, by depressing
respiratory function, may hasten death. Though it is always technically
possible to achieve relief from pain, at least when the appropriate resources
are available, the price may be functionally and practically equivalent, at
least from the patient's point of view, to death. And this, of course, is just
what the issue of euthanasia is about.
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