17 Oct 2009

Sample Essay: Oregon's Death With Dignity Act and The Legalization of Euthanas

The room is cold, freezing. The only noise that resonate are the inspiration and expiration of one. Walking closer there lies the face – solemn, the eyes glassy in appearance, the being lost into its own world. Beside it lies the respirator, intricately calibrated to give and take away air to this being. Looking back onto him, his eyes look back. They are full of pain, suffering, and agony. He has a disease that is destroying his body, he does not have long to live. The intravenous lines attached to his arms give him his life – morphine for pain, adrenaline and dobutamine for his heart, parental feeding for his inability to eat. The grey hairs that cascade over his head detail his age. A long fight he has had with the struggles of life. Is this last fight worth it?

Euthanasia is the Greek term for a ‘good death,’ whereby a patient’s life is ended in a painless manner. Hence, the essential value of euthanasia is to provide empathy, sympathy and dignity to the person who shall undergo it. In one study, euthanasia’s terminology, such as ‘mercy killing’ and the ‘right to die,’ caused positive emotional words from those who greatly supported euthanasia. It was also found that the alternative words to euthanasia have different interpretations in the minds of the lay public, such as ‘voluntary-assisted suicide.’

This makes euthanasia contrary to traditional ethical practice due to its use in the ending of a person’s life. Inherently as health care professionals we are taught to preserve human life by all means. As quoted from the Hippocratic Oath, “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.”

Therefore, the conflict that arises is around the dilemma over what is best for the patient. We are trained to save a life, but when is it proper to no longer save a life and instead take it away? We all know of stories within the health field of patients who never should have made it out of a coma, with a potassium level over 7, or with neisseria meningitides. Yes, they did. What if we decided to instead end this life, to move on to another? What would have stopped us? Yet, the resources for maintaining a patient’s life are limited. There are those who suffer from terminal illnesses that leave no chance for survival. Why must they suffer? Have they not the inborn right to choose how and when to die, or when in a health setting do they automatically have no charge over his or her own life? Who is to say that in ten years from now a comatose patient will not wake up? The chances are negligible, yet they are present. This brings forth the chasm in the health professionals role – sustainer of life and instigator of death. As stated by Richard Fenigsen, Dutch cardiologist, “”The fundamental question about euthanasia: Whether it is a libertarian movement for human freedom and the right of choice, or an aggressive drive to exterminate the weak, the old, and the different, this question can now be answered. It is both.”

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was an American pathologist who devised a machine that allowed a patient to administer a lethal drug to him or herself. The result that his actions had on communities were mixed. Some were outraged, others understandable. This did have a link to the religious and spiritual, not racial, views of individuals within the community. This indicates that the dilemma that most of the public has towards euthanasia deals with their personal beliefs, which are based on their religion. However, for those who are not religious or whose religions are not against this, is it right to force them to live when they do not want to?

I believe in euthanasia, assisted suicide, for those with terminal illnesses. In the United States, the only place where this is legal is the state of Oregon. Basing its model on the Netherlands, Oregon’s state judicial system approved the practice of assisted suicide.  Dependent on where I work, to entertain or practice my beliefs will be considered criminal and I will face a criminal sentence. This will provide a dilemma if I should have to interact with patients and families who would like to undergo euthanasia. However, more than my own personal beliefs are concerned, I am foremost a health professional. My job is to treat patients according to the law. If a patient is not terminally ill and is requesting end of life, I will explain to them that I cannot help them on the matter. However, if they are terminally ill, then I would suggest that they go to Oregon in the hope that their request might be granted. Nonetheless, in Oregon there have been recent evidence to suggest that the protection of terminally ill patients, which was stated within the law, is being circumvented.

I agree with the view of care ethics towards euthanasia. In one article form Enger et. Al, it states that the ethics of care essentially favors the biological needs of a patient by nurturing the basic functioning and alleviating their pain and affliction. Yet, there must also never be the intention of hastening that patient’s death. At the end of a patient’s life there must be care which is attentive, receptive and courteous. Therefore it is inferred that euthanasia must only be used to relieve a patient’s pain and suffering when they are near death or largely incapacitated.

Those who are suffering and wish to die with dignity should be allowed the choice to decide when and how that should be. I know personally for myself should I ever be in a situation where I will lose all control over my body or have to deal with “oxygen hunger” I would want to know that option was available. There would be nothing worse for me than being trapped in a useless body and no way to communicate my pain or to have such poor quality of life. At that point you can have death or you can have death with suffering. I opt for no suffering…for me and the burden it would place on my family.

Therefore, the issue of euthanasia is greatly controversial. From those who claim will be used for those who wish to exterminate like the Nazi’s, to those who wish to care for a patient’s pain like Kervorkian. I feel that it is the patient’s decision based on his or her own beliefs, pain and suffering. No person has the right to enforce life or death onto another. It is that person’s right as no one else understand his or her misery. In the words of Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of Hospice, “You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”


Engster, D. , 2008-03-20 “Care Ethics and Euthanasia” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the WESTERN POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION, Manchester Hyatt, San Diego, California Online <PDF>. 2008-12-11 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p238188_index.html

Hendin, H., Foley, K., 2008-06 “Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon” Michigan Law Review, 106, 1613 (2008).

Morris, P. H., Betz, J. C. and Lubitow, A. , 2007-08-11 “Learning to Dispense Death: Veterinary Interns Consider the Practical Impact of their Early Euthanasia Training” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, TBA, New York, New York City Online <PDF>. 2008-12-11 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p184393_index.html

O’Hara, M. and Schober, M. F. , 2004-05-11 “Attitudes and Comprehension of Terms in Opinion Questions about Euthanasia” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs, Phoenix, Arizona <Not Available>. 2008-10-10 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p116056_index.html

Siu, W. L. , 2008-05-21 “Communities of Interpretation: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online <PDF>. 2008-12-10 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p229856_index.html

Wasserman, J. A., Clair, J. M. and Ritchey, F. J. , 2005-08-12 “Racial Differences in Attitudes toward Euthanasia” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Marriott Hotel, Loews Philadelphia Hotel, Philadelphia, PA Online <PDF>. 2008-10-23 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p22027_index.html

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