Why dying with dignity matters

Below are two paragraphs from a university essay that I submitted last year. The essay discusses euthanasia, through examining the sanctity of life argument, why dying with dignity matters, the slippery slope argument and real life safeguards. Euthanasia is a moral issue of our time. To stimulate thought about the subject core, I wish to share my two academically engaged paragraphs on why dying with dignity matters.

I argue that self worth and fundamental values are disrespected by restricting people from acting upon what life and death mean to them. There is no distinct moral difference between letting die and euthanasia. James Rachel’s (1986, p. 111) argues that although passive euthanasia, which merely lets someone die, as opposed to active euthanasia, which kills purposefully, there is nothing to suggest that the ‘latter is worse than the former’. Joel Feinberg (1978) lists core values of ‘authenticity, integrity and distinct self-identity’ that are aligned with autonomy. Dying with dignity encompasses intrinsic, unconditional qualities of humans, along with external physical aspects of ‘autonomy, meaningfulness, preparedness, and interpersonal connection’ (Cuttini et al. 2004). Historical tracings take us back to the Stoics, where ‘self-killing was justified’, to ‘offset the effects of pain, mutilation or incurable illness’ (Paterson 2008). A distinction must be made between being alive and merely having a life. The former focuses on biology, whereas the significant latter on ‘worthwhile biographical characteristics’ that make life valuable (Paterson 2008). Peter Singer (2011, p. 93) focuses on the quality of life in order to inform decision making when it comes to euthanasia and will in some cases justify its practice.

 Lower enjoyment of life levels, depression and pain are reasons people wish to no longer live. A study on views of euthanasia recruited a total of 142 neonatal intensive care units, predominantly in Europe and the United Kingdom. The overwhelming opinion was that active euthanasia is needed now more than ever, which I argue provides a means of relief for the ill patient, as well as the family (Cuttini et al. 2004). It must be noted that euthanasia is a method to be used for those who cannot have their suffering alleviated, because their critical position puts them past such a stage to ‘experience the relief of suffering’ (Brouwer et al. 2018, p. 2). If palliative care is also going to bring about death, I opt for different means to bring about quicker ends, to ensure individual autonomy remains. Bentham, (2007, p. 43) a key thinker of utilitarianism, suggested that it could be morally justifiable to seek to end a life, given that it had outlived its benefit and usefulness. A quality of life stance must be taken on euthanasia, rather than an obsession about how it is wrong to kill. To die with dignity is a right one should have access to, as opposed to leaving this world suffering.

Bentham, J 2007, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Dover Publications Inc., New York, NY.

Brouwer, M, Kaczor, C, Battin, MP, Maeckelberghe, E, Lantos, JD & Verghagen, E 2018, ‘Should Pediatric Euthanasia be Legalized?’, Pediatrics, vol. 141, no. 2, pp. 1-5, viewed 10 September 2018, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3?current-issue=y

Cuttini, M, Casotto, V, Kaminski, M, Beaufort, ID, Berbik, I, Hansen, G, Kollée, L, Kucinskas, A, Lenoir, S, Levin, A, Orzalesi, M, Persson, J, Rebagliato, M, Reid, M & Saracci, R 2004, ‘Should euthanasia be legal? An international survey of neonatal intensive care units staff’, ADC: Archives of Disease in Childhood, vol. 89, no. 1, pp. 19-24, viewed 10 September 2018, https://fn.bmj.com

Feinberg, J 1978, ‘Voluntary Euthanasia and the Inalienable Right to Life’, PPA: Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 93-123, viewed 10 September 2018, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10884963

Paterson, C 2008,  Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Natural Law Ethics Approach, Routledge, New York, NY, viewed 10 September 2018, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/lib/usyd/reader.action?docID=438867&query=

Rachels, J 1986, Active and passive euthanasia, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Singer, P 2011, Practical ethics, 3rd edn, Cambridge University Press, England.