Euthanasia, derived from the Greek word euthanatos meaning easy death (“Ethics – Euthanasia”), is when a doctor painlessly ends one’s life, as long as the patient and their family agree. The patient will usually be suffering from a terminal condition or an irreversible coma. Many people have different opinions on euthanasia, and their belief systems impact their perspective on euthanasia. In this essay, I will look into how our religious and ethical values determine whether it is morally acceptable for doctors, or the government to deny euthanasia for someone with a terminal condition. There are two forms of euthanasia, passive, when the doctor terminates the medication that keeps the patient alive, and active, when the doctor uses lethal substances to end the patient’s life (Nordqvist). People find passive euthanasia more ethical than active euthanasia, therefore passive euthanasia is legal in more countries than active euthanasia is, such as Finland, Germany, South Korea, and many more (“Legality of Euthanasia.”). The main controversy revolving around euthanasia is that it goes against the oath that doctors take, the Hippocratic Oath. The original oath states that: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” (Nordqvist). Active euthanasia definitely goes against this oath, therefore the oath has been revised and modified to the current version: “If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.” (Nordqvist). Despite euthanasia being compatible with the current oath, many people still think that it is immoral to take one’s life, making euthanasia one of the most controversial topics that are being debated over. There are many stakeholders involved in the controversy that is euthanasia, the doctor, the patient, the family of the patient, the government, and many more. In this essay, I will be discussing the perspective of the doctor, a patient who got denied euthanasia, and a journalist for the Straits Times.
Chantal Sebire, a woman who was suffering from a rare form of cancer, esthesioneuroblastoma, had requested a court in Eastern France to allow doctors to help her terminate her life, but her request was rejected. Siebre believed it was wrong for the government to deny her euthanasia, she said: “It is simply wrong that terminally ill people not just in France, but also in the UK, who are suffering unbearably are not being given the choice to die with dignity.” (“Health | France Rejects”). From her statement, I concluded that Chantal Sebire had a utilitarianism belief system as she wanted the best outcome for herself, which was to end her suffering, despite the procedure she would have to go through. Utilitarians want the best outcome from each situation, they care less about the actions they undergo and more about the end result. In Sebire’s case, undergoing euthanasia would have been the best outcome for herself, as she would end her suffering. This is the main reason why Sebire was very confident in her opinion, despite it going against the French government. Another reason why Sebire was very confident in her opinion on euthanasia is because France is an individualist region that promotes freedom of speech. Due to this, many people protest against certain issues, voicing their thoughts on them. Sebire might have been inspired by the many protestors, therefore voicing her opinion to the government, despite having a different opinion from the government. Clearly, Sebire’s perspective has impacted France at a national level as the French prime minister’s office conversed with Jean Leonetti, the French lawmaker, to remedy the French law of euthanasia (Schpoliansky, “Cancer Sufferer”) after Sebire pleaded for euthanasia. The reason why the impact was more national than global was because many countries around the world have already changed their laws to accept euthanasia. The main consequence of having this perspective is that Sebire fails to realise that the procedure the patients undergo is morally incorrect as the physician is ending one’s life, putting guilt on themselves. Due to Sebire’s utilitarian perspective, she believed that she has the right to die as it had the best outcome for herself. She was very determined to find someone to help her die with dignity, “I now know how to get my hands on what I need, and if I don’t get it in France, I will get it elsewhere.” (“Health | France Rejects”). In the end, two days after Sebire’s denial of euthanasia from the government, she was found dead in her apartment. The cause of death was unknown, but it is confirmed to be an unnatural death.
A more of a national perspective on euthanasia is from Darius Lee, a journalist for the Straits Times. Lee believes that: “Laws against the killing of patients vindicate and uphold every person’s right to life, especially that of the terminally ill or vulnerable.” (Lee). He also stated that “euthanasia is contrary to both the law and medical ethics, and should remain so.” (Lee), showing that he believes that it is moral for doctors and the government to deny euthanasia to a patient with a terminal condition as the denial will provide the patient with a ‘right to life’. From this, I concluded that he is a deontologist as he believes that it is moral to abide by the laws rather than break the laws. Deontologists believe that the actions people take are more important than the result, in this case, abiding by the law is the right thing to do. The main cause of Lee’s deontologist perspective may be because of the place he is from, Singapore. The laws in Singapore are very strict, and most Singaporeans abide by the law as the consequences are extreme if you break a law, such as penalty fines, imprisonment, and even the death penalty. Therefore, most Singaporeans don’t overlook the laws, they tend to just follow them, causing them to believe that the law is always right, and there is no doubting it. In Singapore, euthanasia is illegal. This may also be one of the influences on Lee’s attitude towards euthanasia. A few consequences of having this perspective is that Lee fails to realise that the act of “mercy killing” ends a patient’s and their loved one’s sufferings. A bigger, more national, consequence of having this perspective is that Lee and other Singaporeans like Lee will end up passing on the same mindset to their children, that euthanasia is wrong and that it is immoral. Once the laws in other countries and even the Singaporean euthanasia laws change, it will be hard for these generations to adapt with the change as they will be used to thinking that “euthanasia is immoral”. If you compare Darius Lee’s perspective on euthanasia to Chantal Sebire, you can see how different a deontologist and utilitarian thinks. As I stated earlier, Lee believes that euthanasia is wrong because it violates both the law and the medical ethics, and that it is moral for doctors to deny euthanasia to a terminally ill patient as it gives the patient a right to life. On the other hand, Sebire believed that it was immoral for a doctor to deny euthanasia to a patient with a terminal condition, as it would make the patient suffer.
My third and final stakeholder is a group of Muslim doctors from Pakistan. Like Lee, these doctors strongly believe that it is moral for doctors to deny euthanasia for a terminally ill patient. They believe that “only God should terminate their lives” (Afzal). The main reason why the doctors feel this way is because of their religion, Islam, which teaches that Allah is the only one who gives life and has the absolute authority of taking it (Ayuba, 6). Like Singapore, Islam has a lot of consequences for breaking its rules. It’s is stated in the Qur’an that, “The enormity of the sin on a person who deliberately terminates a life other than in the course of justice such as murder or spreading mischief in the land, is as if the whole people have been killed by him” (Qur’an 5:32 cited in Ayuba, 6), showing that the murderer, the doctor, would have a big burden on their shoulders if they proceeded with the act of euthanasia. The main reason why the group of doctors are very faithful to Islam is because the Pakistan government highly encourages its citizens to follow Islam. There is no real consequence of not being a Muslim in Pakistan, it is just highly encouraged by the people of Pakistan. The main consequence of having this perspective is that these Pakistani’s fail to realize that many people are suffering from terminal conditions, and they are being a burden to their loved ones. If they received euthanasia, then their sufferings would end, so would their loved ones’. A more national consequence of having this mindset is that, like Singapore, the younger generation will also end up having the mindset that it is moral for doctors to deny euthanasia to a terminally ill patient as euthanasia goes against their religion, Islam. When comparing these doctors’ perspective to Lee’s perspective, you can tell that the doctors and Lee have the same moral ethics as they believe that they should always follow a rule. In Lee’s case, it is the law, but in the doctor’s case, it is the Islamic rules. When comparing all three perspectives to one another, you can see that their upbringing has impacted the stakeholder’s belief systems and perspective. Sebire had a utilitarian point of view because she was raised in a country that allowed freedom of speech, while Lee and the doctors were raised in a country that has very strict laws that very strict beliefs, making them believe that following the rules and laws is always the right thing to do.
Personally, I believe that it is moral for a doctor to deny euthanasia for a patient with a terminal illness as I believe that the act of euthanasia is murder, despite the medical reasons behind it. The main reason why I have this perspective on euthanasia is because of my deontologist belief system. Like Lee, I believe that our actions matter more than the consequences, abiding the law and doing moral things are more valued than a good outcome. A factor that has influenced me having this belief system is because of the way I am brought up. My parents always told me that the grade I get for a test doesn’t matter as much as the effort I put into my studies. This has made me believe that the actions we take have more of a value than the consequences we face because of the action. Another reason why I have a deontologist belief system is, like Lee, the place where I am brought up, Singapore. As I stated above, the consequences go as far as the death penalty for breaking certain laws in Singapore, causing us, the residents of Singapore to willingly abide by the law and believe that the law is always right. After reading Sebire’s story, my opinion of euthanasia is not as strong as it was, I believe that under some circumstances it is okay for doctors to provide euthanasia, as long as the patient and their family are truly suffering. This is because I believe that nobody should do something against their will. If living is against a terminal patient’s will, then the patient and their family will be suffering a lot, so euthanasia will be the right action to take in this situation. As time passes, the controversy on euthanasia will continue to grow, and so will our perspective on these controversial issues.
- Ayuba Mahmud Adesina. “Euthanasia : A Muslim’s Perspective.” Scriptura: International Journal of Bible, Religion and Theology in Southern Africa, no. 1, 2016, p. 1. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7833/115-0-1175.
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- Lee, Darius. “Euthanasia Contrary to Medical Ethics.” The Straits Times, 21 Nov. 2018, www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/euthanasia-contrary-to-medical-ethic
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