Euthanasia is the practice of ending the life of an invalid living being by relatively painless means, particularly when there is no hope of recovery such as when the patient is suffering from a painful and incurable disease or is in an irreversible coma. Those in favor of euthanasia usually believe that taking the life of an individual who is suffering endlessly is an act of mercy.
There are many forms of Euthanasia. Active euthanasia involves directly causing the death of a patient, while passive euthanasia includes withdrawing life supporting treatment or withholding surgery or medication. There are cases where euthanasia is involuntary such as in the case of a baby who is too young to ask for death. Voluntary euthanasia is when a terminally sick patient personally requests that he/she be killed.
The most controversial of all forms of Euthanasia is physician assisted suicide, which raises many questions about medical ethics. Physician assisted suicide is when a physician provides or withholds medication and/or treatment upon the request of a patient or his/her family knowing that the patient’s death will be the outcome of this decision. The argument is whether this qualifies as “caring” for the patient, which is the prime duty of a doctor.
The subject of euthanasia is very controversial and each case should be considered individually on the basis of ethical, legal, social and religious grounds.
On ethical and legal grounds, it is argued that involuntary euthanasia cannot be distinguished from murder and therefore if it is legalized there would be no way to bring murderers to justice if they present their act as one of involuntary euthanasia. Furthermore, doctors may kill very sick patients without their consent. Doctors may even begin to take patients’ lives in order to vacate hospital beds, or to save money. On the other hand the ethical argument in favor of euthanasia is that every individual has the right to decide what to do with their life, including the choice of ending it, whenever, and however they choose. As per this school of thought, legal bodies should consider that the choice to die is also a human right. To opt to die is an individual choice so there should be no objection if someone wishes to die, especially if no harm is being done to any other individual.
On a social level, it is argued that just as human beings are allowed to choose to lead a dignified life, they should also be allowed to choose death, especially under circumstances where the individual feels that his life as a dependent invalid is not dignified. On the other hand, societal concerns with regards to euthanasia are that for a person to give up his/her life is an absolute disrespect of the bounty of life as well as of all the family and social ties attached to the person. The consequences of a person’s death are not limited to the person alone. His/her friends and family will be losing a vital relationship too. Even if the patient is terminally ill or bed ridden, perhaps even in a coma, the fact that he is alive could be a source of hope and contentment for near and dear ones.
The most prominent debate against euthanasia is the religious aspect of killing someone or allowing them to die. As per almost all religions, God is the only rightful One to give or take a life. The Roman Catholic Church, Islam and Judaism are all staunchly against any form of euthanasia, assisted dying, or suicide. While Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism prohibit voluntary murder they are not very clear on the subject of euthanasia. The Anglican, Methodist, and Unitarian movements allow for individual cases to be assessed by religious bodies and medical experts after which the decision to euthanize a patient may be taken. This however leaves a lot of room for an ill informed decision to be made. There are even religions that openly support euthanasia such as Jainism which elevates the position of an individual who opts for voluntary suicide by fasting.