Advancement in Science and technology has helped to cure a lot of ailments but still, there are some diseases which cannot be treated and cause unbearable and unending pain to people. Some people going through such terrible pain decide to end their lives. The practice of ending a patient’s life by medical professionals with the motive of relieving him from suffering is called Euthanasia. It is one of the most controversial issues in the medical industry and people have a different perspective regarding the legalization and acceptance of Euthanasia. Although many believe that euthanasia is unacceptable, the moral acceptance of Euthanasia depends upon the situation of the patient demanding it. My outlook on euthanasia is that Active euthanasia is more reasonable than Passive euthanasia because it is more humane in its way of killing people without pain.
The prominent difference between the two types of euthanasia, that is, Active euthanasia and passive euthanasia is that the first is done by giving lethal drugs or injection to the patient on his or her request while the latter is the removal or end of the treatment and letting the disease kill the patient. In active euthanasia, the patient is relieved from pain in a few minutes with the injection of lethal drugs. This method is less painful and doesn’t take long. On the contrary, passive euthanasia leads to suffering and pain for a longer period. It is not necessary that the patient will die a few moments after the cessation of the medication, turning off ventilator or removal of the feeding tube. Instead, the disease naturally kills the patient slowly or fast depending on the type of disease. Also, it is never painless.
Many doctors believe passive euthanasia is better than active euthanasia because in passive euthanasia, the doctors don’t have to go through the moral challenge of killing someone directly and letting someone die seems less immoral than killing someone. James Rachels (1975) opposes this belief and writes against the difference between letting die and killing. She gives that it is only in certain circumstances when killing someone painlessly in few moments is more humanitarian than letting someone die slowly by suffering from the disease. If someone is in extreme and unending pain then it is acceptable to kill the person by practicing active euthanasia because doing this will free him from the suffering. But in some cases, people let their disabled children with Down syndrome die from minor diseases like intestinal infections which could be cured with simple treatments. Rachels argues that letting someone die by not taking any action to save them is as evil as killing someone intentionally. She gives the example of two imaginary men Smith and Jones who want to kill their nephews to get their property. Smith murders his nephew by drowning him in the bathtub when his nephew was taking a bath. On the other side, Jones’ nephew slips in the bathtub while taking bath and Jones does nothing to save him from drowning. He just stands there and watches his nephew die. Rachels says that the acts of both Smith and Jones are equally cruel because their intention was to kill their nephews.
Further, Rachels rejects the views of his challengers that in active euthanasia, it is the doctor who is the cause of death but in passive euthanasia, doctors have nothing to do with patient’s death. He believes that the cause of the death may be important for taking legal action but the moral idea of death is unaffected by the cause. The doctor is equally important for the death of a patient who dies by passive euthanasia as he is for the death of a patient who dies by active euthanasia.
McLachlan critics Rachels by saying that “There are significant moral differences between killing and letting die” (McLachlan, 2008). Our ethics about killing someone are completely different from what we think about letting someone die. He gives a hypothetical example of a patient who asks the doctor to turn off the ventilator because he is not able to bear the suffering. The doctor feels that it is now his moral duty to end the pain by agreeing to the patient’s request. However, if the patient asks someone else to kill him, the other person will never feel it ethical to do so. McLachlan maintains that Active and Passive euthanasia are two different subjects and sometimes they both can be wrong in one situation and right in the other. In some of the cases, it is ethically more reasonable to kill someone rather than letting him/her die. The meaning and acceptance of the two types of euthanasia can be different for every person.
Natalie Abrams () talks about the application of euthanasia. She says that “Euthanasia is considered only in cases in which death seems to be the more desirable outcome, for the patient, than the suffering or pain he must undergo for the remainder of his life” ( Abrams ). Abrams rejects the example of Smith and Jones given by Rachels because these are not applicable to the case of euthanasia. This is because the line of separation between Active and passive euthanasia depends upon the nature of the results. To prove her point, she gives the case of two women named Carol and Diane. Both the ladies are fond of their brothers. One day the two women were on a beach with their brothers. When Diane saw her brother making efforts to save him from drowning, she jumps in the water and saves him. On the other side, when Carol’s brother was drowning, she had to do nothing because he helped himself out of the water. She compares her example to Rachels case by giving that in both the instances, the motive of the first individual was same to the motive of the second individual but in her example, Diane benefits more than Carol because she won praise by others.
We can relate this example to euthanasia by saying that in case of active euthanasia, the patient benefits more because the suffering is reduced to a great level but in passive euthanasia, the patient undergoes infinite pain until he dies.
She further supports euthanasia by saying that if the patient didn’t feel like his suffering was worse than death; he would never decide to kill himself. If it is the doctor’s decision to choose between active and passive euthanasia, he should choose active euthanasia because it is the more easy way to end the suffering of the patient and it is also quick. If the patient wishes for the end of his life, the mediator should use a type of euthanasia which is more successful in providing the desirable results, that is, death; without causing any pain.
Another supporter of euthanasia David Shaw writes “(K)illing and letting die is flawed, and that there is no real distinction between actively ending someone’s life and “merely” allowing them to die” (Shaw ). He explains this by giving illustrations of Adam and Brain who are suffering from lung and stomach cancer respectively. Adam is living with the help of a ventilator while Brain is using medication to delay death. In both the cases, the patients are unable to live their life on their own and both believe that their life is of no use. Adam and Brain want to end their life. In the first case, Adam consciously asks the doctors to remove his ventilator and in the second case, Brain refuses to take further treatment so that he can die because of his disease. Shaw mentions the belief of Dr. Willem Kolff, that if a person wants to end his life because of his preference to death over worthless suffering, he should be allowed to choose active euthanasia.
Peter Singer defends active euthanasia and demands that the laws against the practice of euthanasia by saying that a person who wants to end his pain by dying should be given the right to choose active euthanasia. If active euthanasia would be allowed, the deaths of most of the people suffering from incurable diseases would be much easier and without suffering. Moreover, humans have autonomy to do as they wish.
These views might not be in accordance with religion but we have to accept that the sole purpose of development of medical science is to make human life more worthy and enjoyable and if a person believes that his life is not worth living and is a burden for him and his family, he should be given the right to choose what he wants to do with his life because otherwise it would be considered that humans have to suffer unbearable pain till death.
It can be said that every person wants to live a happy life and if life is being continued with pain by using some drugs and machines that delay death then it is not equivalent to living. In such cases, individuals should be allowed to request active euthanasia and get “killed”.