Hamlet’s famous soliloquy ponders one of life’s most profound questions:

  To be or not to be…whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows  of  outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of sorrows and by opposing end them…

Let’s pretend “the slings and arrows” come in the form of terminal cancer.  Let’s also pretend that instead of nobly suffering, I decided to “take arms against a sea of sorrows”, should euthanasia (a.k.a. physician assisted suicide) be viable option?

The right to self government and moral independence is seen as a major foundation of human rights here in the U. S. (Karlsson, M, Millberg, A., & Strang, P.  34). However, when it comes to choosing to expedite death rather than suffer through a catastrophic illness, the individual does not have the right to “self govern”.  For countries where doctor assisted suicide is legal, patient autonomy is the very thing used in its legal regulation.

As with any significant decision, it is important to understand the objective basis for making the decision; a point well made by Dr. Maurakis’s presentation.  A study, which involved 66 cancer patients sought to understand how/why they would make the decision for or against euthanasia (Karlsson, et all. 2012).  The study sought to find if autonomy, which is usually cited as a key factor in the decision for euthanasia, would also be a factor in the decision-making of the patients.

When it came to the general attitude about euthanasia, 29% were pro, 20% opposed, and 51% were undecided.  Many of the patients expressed wishes to limit future medical care and not prolong life in all situations.  Those patients that cited euthanasia as a means to patient autonomy explained that it was empowering:  it enables one to make decisions to control ones death as well as life.  This was perceived to be something valuable as well as a human right.

On the other hand, there were some patients that viewed euthanasia as an empowering of doctors and the health care system.  Some felt empowered doctors would be analogous to having a parent – someone in charged of making decisions for their well-being.  To counter that point, some patients argued that euthanasia would create a society where doctors get to choose who lives and who dies.  This would mean that individuals would not have the power to protect themselves.

The international community has several documents that deal with the right to life and the individual (Biswas, T.K & Sengupta, A.  25). The documents also bring forth valid ground to consider euthanasia in various contexts.  Here are three examples of such documents:

1)      Universal Declaration for Human Rights is not itself a document or treaty, but it is considered “customary international law”.

2)     The European Convention on Human Rights lists the right to life as well as the exceptions to it.

3)    The International Covenant on civil and Political Rights stipulates a)  everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law, b) no one shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction and, c) deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this.

On the matter of euthanasia, there is no shortage of arguments (for and against).    My personal argument has always been that it should be left up to the individual.   If of sound mind/rational, why should a person not have the right to make a decision?  The bottom line is that this is a serious ethical/social problem, which should be solved (Fenigsen 239).   While more and more rhetoric is put forth, countless of people are living in unbearable pain and countless others are watching their loved ones suffer.  Let’s have less rhetoric and more action!



Works Cited and Consulted

Bivas, T. K., Sengupta, A.  (2010).  Euthanasia and its legality and legitimacy from Indian and international human rights.  Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights the law, 11, 18-30.

Fenigsen, R. (2011).  Other people’s lives: Reflections on medicine, ethics and euthanasia: Part two: Medicine versus euthanasia.  Issues in Law and Medicine, 26(3), 23-279

Karlsson, M.,  Millberg, A.,  Strang, P.  (2012).   Dying cancer patients own opinions on euthanasia:  An expression of autonomy?  Palliative Medicine, 26,  34-32.