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Playing God: A Role That Shouldn't Be Cast
All humans will die. Approximately 2,155,000 people from the United States will die in one year. In the United States, during the year of 1989, 34% of all deaths were caused by heart disease, 23% caused by cancer, 6% by strokes, and 2.2% by accidents involving motor vehicles. In that same year, 5.5% of the deaths were caused by medical negligence and suicide (Leading causes). This does not take into consideration the number of people who were killed by assisted suicide and euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is described as the intentional discontinuation, by the patient's physician, of vital treatment that could prolong the person's life. Assisted suicide occurs when a health care worker provides a patient with tools and/or medication that will help the patient kill him or herself, without the direct intervention of the care provider. Active euthanasia takes place when the doctor is responsible for the killing of the patient; for example, when the doctor administers a lethal injection (Schofield, 25). Active euthanasia is illegal in the United States. Only three states have legalized assisted suicide and only Oregon permits physician-assisted suicide. Thirty-five states, including Colorado, have statutes criminalizing assisted suicide and nine states criminalize assisted suicide through common law (Assisted suicide laws). In addition to active and passive euthanasia there are three other categories of euthanasia: voluntary, nonvoluntary, and involuntary. Voluntary, there is written or spoken consent from the patient; nonvoluntary, the patient can not voice his or her opinion because of unconsciousness or comatose; and involuntary, which goes against the wishes of the patient, and constitutes murder (Schofield, 26). Assisted suicide and euthanasia, in any form, are murder.
"People are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to them" (Vaticana, 550). To decide if euthanasia is wrong, one must first decide whom life belongs to. The Bible says, "In God's hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). Life belongs to God and since God gave life to the human race, God should decide when it is time to take life. Also, the fifth commandment says, "Thou shall not kill." Assisted suicide and euthanasia disobey this commandment.
Supporters of euthanasia argue that the First Amendment "forbids the establishment of religion" and therefore one can't say life belongs to God. However, in the case of Bowers versus Hardwick in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled "that citizens in a democracy may vote away individual rights, even if that vote is based ultimately on nothing but religious faith" (Bowden).
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Legalization of voluntary euthanasia could mean legalization of nonvoluntary euthanasia and possibly of involuntary euthanasia. Ex-governor of Colorado Richard Lamm said that the "terminally ill elderly have a duty to die and get out of the way" (Johansen). This is a dangerous attitude to have. When the value of the human life is lost and when family, doctors, and society start to judge the value of a person's life, then the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is invalid. Terminally ill people who are seeking euthanasia as a solution to their problems should not be encouraged to end their life but rather to focus on the small blessings of it. Some families consider ill relatives as an added pressure. One theologian notes, "There is a growing tendency to view death as good and life itself as a burden," (Low, 41).
Many people who ask to be euthanized are under the influence of depression. Depression is treatable and reversible, death is not. In one study of people who wanted to commit suicide, 24% wanted to die because of a terminal illness. 100% of the patients with terminal illness had clinical depression. Patients with clinical depression are not fully capable of coming to a rational conclusion about their death, because their mind is clouded with mixed emotions (Key points).
People in favor of assisted suicide and euthanasia defend the patients by saying they are depressed because of their illness. Some families feel like the patient deserves help so he or she can be put out of their misery. The terminally ill and depressed need to be cared for by their loved ones. In a study done one year after the law allowing physician-assisted suicide in Oregon was passed, suicide patients "were several times more likely to be divorced or never married" (Shapiro, 56). The absence of a supportive care giver could have made the significant difference between life or death for these patients.
All doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath before they can practice medicine. By this they swear to "please no one will they prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause death," and they will always "prescribe regimen for the good of their patients" (Chung). If doctors swear they will at all times work their hardest to do good for their patients; and some doctors are euthanizing their patients, then people begin to be afraid to trust their doctors. Without a strong trust between the patient and the doctor, the entire medical practice can not perform to its highest ability.
Some who believe euthanasia and assisted suicide are beneficial say that the Hippocratic Oath should be modified so that the doctors can euthanize their patients at their request (Schofield, 26). Until, however, there is a change to the Hippocratic Oath, doctors must stand by their word, because that is all the patients have to go on.
Proponents of euthanasia say that people want to die because they fear the pain that will accompany their illness. They also say pain is incurable, because patients only get addicted to their pain medication. However, only one person, in an Oregon study, used fear of pain as their reason for wanting suicide (Shapiro, 56). There is always a chance of an incorrect diagnosis or the discovery of a treatment which will allow partial or complete recovery. If a person is seeking to kill him or herself through a doctor, maybe the patient should be finding a doctor more qualified at alleviating pain rather than a doctor who is willing to assist suicide.
There are many factors which confirm that assisted suicide and euthanasia are murderous acts. The value of life should be determined by the individual, but death should occur naturally and not be imposed. "Killing, whether it be called 'aid-in-dying' or any other name, is still killing and no law can make it right" (Introduction, 13).
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