The Student Organisation on International Affairs (SOIA); encouraging political discussion and promoting student opinion on current affairs.
By: Abdullah Shah
Matthew Donnelly loved life. But Matthew Donnelly wanted to die. For the past thirty years, Matthew had conducted research on the use of X-rays. Now, skin cancer riddled his tortured body. He had lost his nose, his left hand, two fingers on his right hand, and part of his jaw. He was left blind and was slowly deteriorating. The pain was unrelenting. Doctors estimated that he had a year to live. Lying in bed with teeth clenched from the excruciating pain, he pleaded to be put out of his misery. Matthew wanted to die now. His pleas went unanswered. Then, one day, Matthew’s brother Harold, unable to ignore Matthew’s repeated cry, removed a .30 caliber pistol from his dresser drawer, walked to the hospital, and shot and killed his brother. Harold was tried for murder.
This chilling opening to a report by the Santa Clara University succinctly describes the problem in society that Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide is advocated as a solution for.
In modern times, with the rapid development of medicine and healthcare, it has become easier than ever to cure people of maladies and disorders. Moreover, these advancements allow us to prolong the lives of individuals that suffer from painful and degenerating conditions. As medicine struggles to pull more and more people away from the edge of death, the plea that tortured, deteriorated lives be mercifully ended grows louder and more frequent. Under present law, suicide is not a crime, but assisting in suicide is. Whether or not we as a society should pass laws sanctioning “assisted suicide” has generated intense moral controversy.
Supporters of legislation legalizing assisted suicide claim that all persons have a moral right to choose freely what they will do with their lives as long as they inflict no harm on others. This right of free choice includes the right to end one’s life when we choose. For most people, the right to end one’s life is a right they can easily exercise. However there are many who want to die, but whose disease, handicap, or condition renders them unable to end their lives in a dignified manner. When such people ask for assistance in exercising their right to die, their wishes should be respected.
Furthermore, it is argued, we ourselves have an obligation to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings and to respect their dignity. Lying in our hospitals today are people afflicted with excruciatingly painful and terminal conditions and diseases that have left them permanently incapable of functioning in any dignified human fashion. They can only look forward to lives filled with yet more suffering, degradation, and deterioration. When such people beg for a merciful end to their pain and indignity, it is cruel and inhumane to refuse their pleas.
Compassion demands that we comply and cooperate.Those who oppose any measures permitting assisted suicide argue that society has a moral duty to protect and to preserve all life. To allow people to assist others in destroying their lives violates a fundamental duty we have to respect human life. A society committed to preserving and protecting life should not commission people to destroy it.
Further, opponents of assisted suicide claim that society has a duty to oppose legislation that poses a threat to the lives of innocent persons. And, laws that sanction assisted suicide inevitably will pose such a threat.
If assisted suicide is allowed on the basis of mercy or compassion, what will keep us from “assisting in” and perhaps actively urging, the death of anyone whose life we deem worthless or undesirable? What will keep the inconvenienced relatives of a patient from persuading him or her to “voluntarily” ask for death? What will become of people who, once having signed a request to die, later change their minds, but, because of their conditions, are unable to make their wishes known? And, once we accept that only life of a certain quality is worth living, where will we stop? When we devalue one life, we devalue all lives. Who will speak for the severely handicapped infant or the senile woman?
The case for assisted suicide is a powerful one – appealing to our capacity for compassion and an obligation to support individual choice and self determination. But, the case against assisted suicide is also powerful for it speaks to us of a fundamental reverence for life and the risk of hurling down a slippery slope toward a diminished respect for life.
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