Today there are five to ten thousand comatose patients in long term care facilities (Wheeler A1). There are countless elderly people in care facilities that have repeatedly expressed a desire to die. There are countless terminally ill patients that have also begged for death. Should these people be allowed to die, or should they be forced to keep on living? This question has plagued ethicists and physicians throughout the years.
In the Netherlands, courts have begun to permit the administration of lethal injections to terminally ill patients (Jacoby 101). To many people, this is a barbaric practice. To others, it is the only humane thing to do. When a person is dying of a terminal illness with no hope of recovery, that person should be allowed to die if they wish. Deliberately keeping them alive to endure the pain and suffering of their illness is the barbaric practice. If they wish death, death should be given to them. Activists for the “Right to Life” don’t stop to consider the right to die. I believe that the Right to Die is as sacred a right as the Right to Life. People who believe in the Right to Die are not alone. The Hemlock Society, which advocates the right to die for terminally ill patients claims to have 28,000 members in forty chapters nationwide (Derr 3).
One of the controversies over the right to die is: who should choose? If the patient is comatose or is unable to make rational judgements, should the doctor or a family member be permitted to make the final decision? If family members were allowed to make the decision Right to Life advocates claim, a family member could get away with the murder of a relative just because that person can’t make up their own mind. Right to Death advocates have a simple answer to this problem. Every person should have a ‘Living Will’ which simply states that that person wishes death if they are fatally injured or become terminally ill. A ‘Living Will’ would permit people to make their own decisions about life and death with no possibility of being misunderstood.
Today, Holland has legal euthanasia where an estimate for the figures for deaths from active euthanasia would be in the range of six to eighteen thousand deaths (Moody 712). This number may seem horrible to some, but to others, it simply means another six to eighteen thousand people who are no longer suffering.
I do not know why the Advocates for the Right to Life insist on keeping people who are suffering alive, but I do know that they have no right to dictate to a person whether or not they have the right to die. I can understand the concern of these people that euthanasia might be used for unethical killings, such as the Nazis did in World War II, but if euthanasia were strictly regulated to include only those who had specifically asked for euthanasia, or those who had asked for it in living wills, then what happened in Germany could be prevented.
When someone is suffering extreme pain from an injury or a terrible disease, do we deny them drugs to make them more comfortable? Of course not. I see no reason to deny the same suffering and dying people the comfort of death.
* Derr, Patrick. “Euthanasia and the Future of Medicine.” Hastings Center Report December 1988: 2-3
* Jacoby, Tamar. “‘I Helped Her on Her Way'” Newsweek November 7, 1988: 101
* Moody, Harry R. “Legal and Ethical Issues in Elder Care: The Right to Die” Gerontologist October 1988: 711-712
* Wheeler, David L. “Euthanasia: an Increasingly Pressing Issue for Ethicists and Physicians” Chronicle of Higher Education November 9, 1988: A1, A6