The highest value of a democratic society is human rights, which means first of all that a human being is the one who is in charge of his or her own life. The premise presupposes that a person has the right to take a decision about what to do with his or her life on the most global level – whether to go on living or stop living.
That is why the state, which aim is to provide the execution of citizens rights, should pay careful attention to such a burning issue as helping terminally ill patients to die. The solution to the problem is legalizing euthanasia as a way of defending human rights alongside taking into consideration the possible moral challenges.
Indeed, moral concerns have been the main factors which prevented the quick spread of euthanasia which could otherwise happen. It is first of all religious communities which oppress the adoption of the law, and the more religiously conservative the country is the stronger is the oppression to assisted suicide. Even if one doesn’t know which countries already have the relevant laws we can easily guess what they are by knowing their excessive tolerance to controversial issues like legalizing marijuana or gay marriages.
Among them are first of all Scandinavian countries and Holland, some of them having adopted the law others at the brink of adoption. It was in 1994 when Oregon approved Ballot Measure, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide under limited condition but the vote met the oppression of Federal Government.
So, the United States seem to belong to the countries with the strongest moral and religious orthodoxy alongside with deeply Catholic countries as opposed to the tolerant Protestant European societies mentioned above. However, the statistics show it is not completely true. In 1999 Gallup organization held a national survey asking Americans the following question: “If you personally had a disease that could not be cured and were living in severe pain, would you consider committing suicide or not?”.
Forty percent answered “yes”, fifty one – “no” and nine were not sure. So, on the face of it, the community divided in halves, roughly speaking. But a there is crucially important detail which shouldn’t be missed: the respondents who took part are naturally not terminally ill and they don’t suffer severe pain. This fact distorts the real statistics which might arise in case they were suffering terrible tortures.
But the controversy is not only about the rights of the patients but also about doctors who help their patients to die. The much-talked-of case of Dr.Kevorkian is the evidence of how ambiguous the interpretation of this or that action can be. “He has been hailed as the champion of the right-to-die movement and denounced as a ghoulish cheerleader for suicide” (Lesenberry, 1994) Jack Kevorkian, who helped twenty people to die on their request, was given a name Dr Death. The case demonstrated the controversy, the current system of law has – there is no legal differentiation between killing out of hate and killing out of mercy.
There is a moral difference, however. And if we try to trace how the legal system has been historically formed, it becomes clear that it grew out of moral system of values, it was its reflection. Society has always been trying to match moral and law, and there have always been discrepancy between them which needed to be bridged. The historical process hasn’t stopped, and the gap needs to be overcome.
But looking at the problem closer makes it evident that it is not so much a matter of the motivation of killing because it is not so much the formal “killer” we are talking about. The focus is actually on the person who chooses death; a doctor is just an instrument for performing his or her will. Everyone should realize that making euthanasia a legal option is not defending suicide but defending choice.
Depriving people of the right to choose is a heavy violation of their human rights. The task of the state is to find a way how to protect the rights of one side without violating the rights of the other one. But the point is the right of all people are least protected when there is no legal definition of the issue at all.
One of the arguments against euthanasia is the claimed immorality of making the relatives of the terminally ill patients decide if to keep them living, especially in case the are not able to decide themselves, like those in coma. Indeed, the issue is very sensitive, which the survey confirmed.
The respondents were asked the question: “If a member of your family were terminally ill and wanted to die, would you be willing to help them?” Forty percent said yes, forty-six no, and fourteen percent were not sure. Indeed, this is a moral challenge for the relatives of the person but again it is a matter of having choice.
Of course, it is easier for the relatives to have no choice in such cases because indeed, it must be the hardest choice a person can face in his or her life. On the other hand, it is questionable what is more immoral – to challenge the relatives with the decision or to let them shift responsibility by making the state decide instead of them.
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