Ethical Dilemmas in Euthanasia: Balancing Autonomy and Compassion

The development of science and technology has brought about changes in human life. Numerous fatal acute illnesses and communicable diseases have been overcome or even eliminated with a deeper understanding of the human body and several drugs and equipment invented. The chief cause of mortality has contributed to chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In the meantime, people may use a variety of specialized fields of medicine to extend the human lifespan. Yet, this is not sufficient to effect a radical cure of the patient and minimal levels of suffering. In many cases, suffering or unconsciousness is prolonged without real signs of improvement. It acts as a social catalyst for the problem of euthanasia. More and more people tend to think giving up self and one’s own life can be morally defensible in some circumstances. In this work 'Ethical Issues of Euthanasia Essay' we will research about what it is Euthanasia and which ethical problem it has.

Euthanasia is certainly one of the means to end a life to ease suffering and indignity. Euthanasia is a Greek word meaning good death. It comes in many forms, including active and passive euthanasia; voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. It is a controversial issue of concern in Hong Kong over many years and it seems that no consensus has been reached yet. This paper aims to argue for both sides of this complex issue, and also present the difficult conditions of the sufferers and their caregivers. In this essay, the subject of euthanasia from the ethics and moral perspective will be discussed as well.

In the first place, some supporters of the legalization of euthanasia consider humans to have full autonomy in freedom of choice. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, stated that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, including the right to choose. Everyone has the natural freedom to choose whatever actions they want to take without prejudice to the human rights of an individual. This should include the right to die. Proponents claim that slow, painful, and ruthless deaths are undignified. On the contrary, it sees humans differ in no way from animals. They think that death is something personal and any person who is ill has the autonomy in deciding when and how to die. Therefore, a society where everyone respects and does not infringe on human rights should legitimize euthanasia. It can protect patients from crippling pain caused by the disease by giving them the right to die with avoiding ill-conceived suicide.

Euthanasia in Hong Kong is not lawful in any circumstances. In 1991, Tang Siu-pun, as known as Ah Bun was practicing for a gymnastics event when he fell badly and injured his spine. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down which kept him bedridden for 16 years. When he informed about overseas legislative precedents on euthanasia in 2003, he wrote to the Chief Executive, Tung Chee-Hwa, expressing the hope to have assisted dying that 'death with dignity'. Thereafter, the situation of Tang has been called for attention and increased community awareness on tetraplegia patients and the issue of euthanasia. However, there still was no consensus among the government and community on the issue of euthanasia and Tang died in 2012. Illnesses and accidents can happen from time to time to everyone and make life even more unbearable. Medical ethics in contemporary clinical practice highlight that respecting the autonomy of individuals with illness as much as possible is the first and foremost principle, and therefore, human beings should have the right to decide on issues of life and death, if necessary. Suicide is no longer looked into as a cause with current law. It is cruel to refuse to permit the performance of euthanasia on patients who are alert, emotionally stable, and suffering from a major illness.

Meanwhile, euthanasia is in line with relatives and social interests. If treatment needs to carry on for months to be effective and the family may be subject to the payment of medical expenses. It also requires long-term care to the chronically ill or psychiatric patients and seeing for themselves the deterioration of the health of close relatives, which could be a great psychological burden on them. Continuous treatments cannot take any favorable turn for people who are terminally ill and society will still be burdened with unforeseen medical expenses. Euthanasia can address the issues; it would take the resources to patients suffering from the early-stage disease from greater effectiveness in the use of social resources.

At the same time, euthanasia can reduce patient suffering. Despite advances in medical technology, some diseases are not able to find treatments that work best on the patient. That means a patient who knowingly an irreversible state of health waits for death, facing mounting pressure, including physical injury and mental and emotional suffering. Supporters of euthanasia believe that allowing active voluntary euthanasia is a manner that permits the patient to leave the suffering and indignity to the end of life.

On the other side of the debate, there have been comments that it could soon become a slippery slope and abuse arguments, with euthanasia being legally performed in Hong Kong. For instance, close family members may request for euthanasia for the sake of shirking the responsibilities of the primary caregiver, healthcare professionals withholding or withdraw of futile treatment under specific conditions too soon, and medical personnel decides to euthanize a comatose patient with the consent of the patient and so on. Euthanasia could be used as a cover of murder and exploited in terms of the rights to life and options of patients.

Another argument against euthanasia, from a medical perspective, is that euthanasia will violate the spirit of medical ethics. It could also undermine the motivation of academics for medical research and the will to survive in patients. In the opinion of Lo Wing-Lok, the Legislative Councilor for the Medical functional constituency from 2000 to 2004, the primary duty of a doctor is to treat people who are ill or injured. Doctors should do whatever is necessary to alleviate terminally-ill patients in physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical aspects, instead of helping patients seek death. The practical implementation of euthanasia is illegal and immoral. This can have devastating consequences and may crack down on general public confidence building on doctors. It also can have a negative psychological impact on patients and medical personnel. If any breach of such medical ethics, the duties of doctors toward patients may become end one’s life, or so physicians and scientists may lose some traction towards exploring new technologies and treatments, in the long run, hindering the overall innovation and development of medical technology. Euthanasia might also mean that it encourages patients to have suicidal ideation, and abstain from the best chance of recovery.

A strong ethical argument against the use of euthanasia is that the existence of controversies surrounding religious and ethical values. Followers of religion believe that life is a gift. Birth and old age, sickness and death, no one can avoid. Each one of us as an individual is precious and unique. Accordingly, ending life prematurely in any artificial way does not comply with the principles or doctrines of a religion. That means the ethical argument will continue to pose strong headwinds for proposing euthanasia laws.

There are strong arguments from both sides and the debate as to whether voluntary euthanasia should be allowed continues. I believe that suppressing deaths that are unavoidable by medical equipment is not necessary. The Pastor, Lo Kit-Choi, executive secretary of the Association of Hong Kong Hospital Christian Chaplaincy Ministry, said that if a patient relies on medical apparatus to support vital functions, the continuous torture inflicted upon the relatives, as well as anguish and a lack of respect for life. It shall be the act of unethical and immoral as this violates the spirit of the natural dying process by God in Christianity. Euthanasia hinders the work of God. I believe that it is not a behavior to shirk the medical responsibility of the exercise of euthanasia that is reasonable in the circumstances so that they die of their disease. However, an agreed-to definition is likely to become difficult to define the distinction between active and passive euthanasia. This is because it is hard to count the willingness to a person with the onset of pain of illness or injury in the part of the body, trance-like state caused by side effects of medications and drugs, and depression when they return to in stable condition.

We spend a considerable amount of time planning birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Death is a part of life. However, topics in death and dying remain limited or non-existent. We are never prepared. Steve Jobs believed that death is the destination we all share, no one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life. This is a serious issue on everyone but not many of us that are willing to face them. Humanity had entered a new era, this means we are confronted with the issues of life and death, we have to move with the times, and in re-interpretation of the right to life. This is the fullest respect for human rights. 

10 October 2022
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