Euthanasia: Precious Life


My impression is that the idea of euthanasia, if not the practice, is
gradually gaining acceptance within our society. People like Jack Kevorkian
attribute this to an increasing inclination to devalue human life, but I do not
believe that this is the major factor. The acceptance of euthanasia is much
more likely to be the result of unthinking sympathy and benevolence. It is an
easy step from this very human response to the view that if someone would be
better off dead, then it must be right to kill that person. Although I respect
the compassion that leads to this conclusion, I believe that this conclusion is
wrong. I want to show that euthanasia is wrong. It is inherently wrong, but
it is also wrongly judged from the standpoints of self-interest and of practical
effects.

Before presenting my arguments, it would be well to define “euthanasia”.
An essential aspect of euthanasia is that it involve taking a human life. Also,
the person whose life is taken must be someone who is believed to be suffering
from an incurable disease or injury from which recovery cannot reasonably be
expected. Finally the action must be deliberate and intentional. Therefore
euthanasia is intentionally taking the life of a presumably hopeless person.

It is important to be clear about the deliberate and intentional aspect
of the killing. If a hopeless person is given an injection of the wrong drug by
mistake and this causes his/her death, this is wrongful killing but not
euthanasia. The killing cannot be the result of an accident. In addition, if
the person is given an injection of a drug that is believed to be necessary to
treat their disease or better their condition and the person dies as a result,
then this is neither wrongful killing nor euthanasia. The intention was to make
the patient well, not kill them.

Every human being has a natural inclination to continue living. Our
reflexes and responses fit us to fight attackers, flee wild animals, and dodge
out of the way of trucks. In our daily lives we exercise caution and care
necessary to protect ourselves. Our bodies are similarly structured for
survival right down to the molecular level. When we are cut, our capillaries
seal shut, our blood clots, and fibrogen is produced to start the process of
healing the wound. When we are invaded by bacteria, antibodies are produced to
fight against the alien organism, and their remains are swept out of the body by
special cells designed for clean-up work.

It is enough I believe to recognize that the organization of the human
body and our patterns of behavioral response make the continuation of life a
natural goal. By reason alone, then, we can recognize that euthanasia sets us
against our own nature. In addition euthanasia does damage to our dignity. Our
dignity comes from seeking our ends. When one of our goals is survival, and
actions are taken that eliminate that goal, then our natural dignity suffers.
Therefore, euthanasia denies our basic human character and requires that we
regard ourselves or others as something less than fully human.

The above arguments are, I believe, sufficient to show that euthanasia
is inherently wrong. But there are reasons for considering it wrong when judged
by standards other than reason. Because death is final and irreversible,
euthanasia contains within it the possibility that we will work against our own
interest if we practice it or allow it to be practiced on us.

Contemporary medicine has high standards of excellence and has a proven
record of accomplishment, but it does not possess perfect and complete knowledge.
A mistaken diagnosis is possible, and so is a mistaken prognosis. Consequently,
we may believe that we are dying of a disease when as a matter of fact, we may
not be. We may think that we have no hope of recovery when, as a matter of fact,
our chances are quite good. In such circumstances, if euthanasia were permitted,
we would die for no reason. Death is final and the chance of error is too great
to approve the practice of euthanasia.

There have been many cases where spontaneous remissions have occurred.
For no apparent reason, a patient simply recovers when those around him/her,
including physicians, expected the patient to die. Euthanasia would just
guarantee their expectations and leave no room for the miraculous recoveries
that frequently occur.

Finally, knowing that we can take our own life\'s at any time (or ask
another to take it) we tend to give up, and rely on euthanasia. The will to
live is strong