Medical ethics euthanasia essays

We could always have abandoned it by accepting euthanasia. Unlike many other current medical—ethical dilemmas, neither death nor euthanasia is a novel issue presented by new technoscience. Many proponents of euthanasia like to claim that opponents rely on two types of unsound arguments: one based on empirical data and the other anchored in axiology. In the first instance, they allege that the outcomes data available from jurisdictions where euthanasia or assisted suicide has been legalized, suggest that our fears of potential abuse are groundless.

They usually express satisfaction with individual clinicians' professional restraint and integrity as well as with administrative safe guards. Some suggest that the acceptance of euthanasia results in improvements in traditional palliative care. This belief that it represents a positive force for changing prevailing clinical practices is not based on robust evidence. Moreover, the evidence for the existence of a practical slippery slope is very convincing. This was very recently affirmed by the High Court of Ireland, in a judgment we discuss shortly, in deciding whether prohibiting assisted suicide contravened the Irish Constitution, which it held it did not.

A recent dramatic example of the logical slope's gravitational pull is the euthanizing, in December , of year-old twins in Belgium. Deaf since childhood, Marc and Eddy Verbessem were facing the additional disability of blindness. Accepting that they were irremediably suffering, their physician euthanized them. Even within the pro-euthanasia movement, this development may be considered an aberration.

Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide

There are two arguments, both warranting careful scrutiny, frequently advanced in support of physician involvement in euthanasia. The first is that physicians have privileged access to information about their patients' unique perspectives and circumstances, including personal resources and frailties, as well as complex family dynamics. That argument has been undermined by evolving practices. It is even less plausible in the case of the mobile euthanasia units currently being deployed in the Netherlands.

The second argument is that physicians are inclined, by temperament and experience, to accompany their patients throughout the illness trajectory, including death. That too is not defensible on the known facts. Pro-euthanasia advocates can come across as rather intrepid in their defense of personal autonomy.

Autonomy is the overriding principle that is used to buttress arguments in favor of euthanasia; indeed, it generally runs roughshod over all other considerations. A case in British Columbia manifests all these issues; it involved vulnerable persons, values conflicts and shows the preferencing by the court of the value of individual autonomy in relation to euthanasia.

The case originates in a challenge to the Canadian Criminal Code's current prohibition of assisted suicide. Gloria Taylor, a plaintiff in the case, Carter v Canada Attorney General 44 , was a person with ALS who requested assisted suicide arguing that as her illness progressed she would be incapable of committing suicide, unaided, due to her physical disability. Consequently, the judge held that the law prohibiting assistance in suicide was not applicable with respect to preventing Ms Taylor and other people in similar circumstances from having such assistance.

The judgment is very long and legally complex and is now on appeal. Read as a whole, it strongly supports legalizing PAS and euthanasia. Criticisms of the judgment include that it gives undue weight to the evidence of expert witnesses who favour legalizing euthanasia, while overly devaluing that of those who oppose it. The High Court of Ireland, in a case with similar facts to the Carter case, in that the plaintiff had an advanced debilitating neurological disease and, likewise, was seeking to have the prohibition on assisted suicide struck down, summed up this aspect of the Carter case as follows: In that case, the Canadian court reviewed the available evidence from other jurisdictions with liberalised legislation and concluded that there was no evidence of abuse.

This Court also reviewed the same evidence and has drawn exactly the opposite conclusions. The medical literature documents specific examples of abuse which, even if exceptional, are nonetheless deeply disturbing. Moreover, contrary to the views of the Canadian court, there is evidence from this literature that certain groups such as disabled neonates and disabled or demented elderly persons are vulnerable to abuse. Justice Smith's justification for allowing euthanasia is largely based on a selective application of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms jurisprudence 45 and depends upon her being able to distinguish the binding precedent set by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Rodriguez case.

It is to convert a right to life to a right to assisted suicide, by accepting as a breach of a right to life that a person will commit suicide sooner, if not given access to assisted suicide.

Chapter 5 - The Ethical Debate

But validating assistance in committing suicide hardly upholds a right to life. Like everybody else, Ms Taylor has a right to refuse treatment even if that means she will die sooner than she otherwise would. Justice Smith accepts the plaintiffs' argument that there is no ethical or moral difference between euthanasia and refusals of life-support treatment that result in death and, therefore, both should be legal. But a right to refuse treatment is based in a right to inviolability—a right not to be touched, including by treatment, without one's informed consent. It is not a right to die or a right to be killed.

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At most, people have a negative content right to be allowed to die, not any right to positive assistance to achieve that outcome. A person with Ms Taylor's illness trajectory will surely die—even more precipitously if they decline many of the interventions described in the hypothetical patient with ALS we introduced earlier on.

Subsequent to the judgment, Ms Taylor died a natural death from an infection. It is also important to underline that current medical practices enable physicians to attenuate much of the suffering that may accompany the progressive loss of function and well-being in advanced ALS. The judge appears also to accept the argument that legalizing euthanasia enhances palliative care. Euthanasia is confused with interventions, such as pain management and rights to refuse treatment, which are ethically and legally acceptable, and an argument is thus set up that, if we are to act consistently, euthanasia must also be ethically and legally acceptable.

It is tantamount to legalizing euthanasia through confusion. Justice Smith turns to the British Columbia Prosecutorial policy on assisted suicide for definitional assistance with respect to whether PAS is medical treatment.


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In other words, the policy's definition of palliative care can be expansively interpreted to place euthanasia in same category as other end-of-life interventions which may hasten death. For the sake of exploration of the issue, let us assume momentarily that euthanasia is medical treatment. What might flow from this? Classifying euthanasia as medical treatment would affect the scope of disclosure of information necessary to obtain informed consent.

A physician must disclose to the patient all reasonably indicated medical treatments as well as their risks and benefits. It would now have to include euthanasia. Even most pro-euthanasia advocates regard it as unethical for a physician to introduce the possibility of euthanasia. Currently, it is generally accepted that any discussion of it must be initiated by the patient. It would also mean that to obtain informed consent to euthanasia, all reasonably indicated treatments would need to be offered and they would certainly include all necessary palliative care, in particular, fully adequate pain management.

Euthanasia is Ethical and Should Be Legal

Many of those advocating for euthanasia posit euthanasia and palliative care as alternatives, but informed consent to euthanasia could not be obtained unless good palliative care was available. As well, Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harvey Max Chochinov, who specializes in psychiatric treatment for dying people, has shown that there are significant fluctuations in the will to live, even as death is imminent. Yet another issue is what would be the indications for euthanasia as medical treatment and who could access it if were legalized?

Critical Connections Live: Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the ICU

And, of course, it is notoriously difficult to predict with any certainty the timing of even obviously terminal illnesses. It will likely culminate in more decisions similar to that taken in the case of the Verbessem brothers in Belgium. It is also pertinent to point out that Canada continues to fund and promote programs that aim to prevent suicide. If suicide is conferred the status of a right or is held to be acceptable medical treatment it would be difficult to reconcile this situation with the presence of programs that aim to actively thwart it.

Essay advantages and disadvantages of euthanasia

We believe that this reasoning is rather disingenuous and that it can result in a dishonouring of that segment remaining in someone's life, whether this is measured in minutes or months, and could deprive them of something as ephemeral as dreams and hopes. It certainly negates the idea of dying as our last great act of living. Finally, a decision classifying euthanasia as medical treatment could have impact far outside the context of issues directly related to death and dying. For example, in Canada, the federal and provincial governments' respective powers are allocated under the Canadian Constitution.

The criminal law power belongs to the federal parliament and the power to govern health and social services to the provincial legislatures.

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If euthanasia was defined as medical treatment, the federal parliament's prohibition of it in the Criminal Code could be invalid by reason of its trespassing on the provincial jurisdiction to govern health and social services. That is one reason that the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons, which supports legalizing euthanasia, argues that it is medical treatment. From past experience, we expect that Quebec might challenge the constitutional validity of the Criminal Code prohibition on this basis. However, a legal committee, set up by the Quebec government, has proposed another approach.

It has just reported on how Quebec could operationalize giving doctors legal immunity for carrying out euthanasia, including by the Attorney General of Quebec instructing Crown Prosecutors not to prosecute them under the Criminal Code for doing so, provided they comply with certain guidelines. In pondering medicine's possible involvement in euthanasia, we must foreground those aspects of the medical mandate that are immutable and eternally relevant.

It is important to appreciate how illness affects persons in all spheres of their lives. Patients become intensely vulnerable, impressionable and open to abuse. The latter demands that physicians harness and deploy their unique influences and persuasive powers in a particular manner. The essential nature of physicianship has evolved over time in a direction that recognizes the extraordinary vulnerability of patients and guards ferociously against their exploitation.

In part, this has been achieved by imposing inviolable limits on the physician's terrain of action. Moreover, we believe that, even if one accepted that euthanasia was ethically acceptable—which we do not—it opens up too many doors for abuse.

The medical profession has arrived at a crossroad; it must choose whether to embrace euthanasia as medical treatment, as a logical extension of end-of-life care, or it can reject the redefinition of its healing mandate that this would entail. We believe, that looking back in the future, the euthanasia events of the present time will be seen as a turning point, not only for the profession of medicine, but also for societies. Donald Boudreau was an Arnold P.

Gold Foundation Associate Professor of Medicine when this manuscript was written and submitted. He is grateful for the financial support the foundation has provided in the past and requests that readers appreciate the opinions expressed herein are his personal views and not necessarily reflective of the perspectives of the Foundation, its staff, affiliates or benefactors. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.