From an early use of the term “euthanasia” by Francis Bacon to the first modern discussion of medical euthanasia in 1826 by the German physician Carl F. H. Marx, in his search for a contrivance for the care of the dying, the alleviation of pain and suffering became a central concern for the treatment of the dying (Lavi, 2005).
With the discovery of morphine in 1806 and the discovery of ether and chloroform in the 1840’s, the new medical hope for a potentially painless death became an alternative the well known religious art of dying, ars moriendi, which placed hope in the redeeming power of pain (Lavi). Williams (1997, p.123) provides a brief modern definition of the Greek word combination – eu (good) thanatos (death): “Euthanasia is an action or omission which is intended to bring about the death of a seriously ill person, in accordance with the expressed wish and/or for the good of the person.” Beyond this simple definition things begin to get complicated. For example, claiming to present pro and con aspects of euthanasia using diverse sources, the authors of Euthanasia ProCon (www.euthanasiaprocon.
org) break down the definition of euthanasia into three categories: voluntary active euthanasia (a competent person makes a voluntary request to be helped to die), passive euthanasia (withdrawing of treatment), and non-voluntary euthanasia (cases where persons are unable to make a decision or make their wishes known). This last group, non-voluntary euthanasia might include: Babies, comatose persons, persons with severely -Albert Schweitzer impaired mental functioning, and persons deemed so impaired that they need to be protected from themselves- in sum persons who cannot or have not requested euthanasia. Another form of euthanasia, which has escaped undue scrutiny by both the legal and medical establishment, is known as lethal dosing (LD). This practice, first discussed in 1936 during a session of the British House of Lords to repudiate proponents of a euthanasia bill, was considered an alternative route making euthanasia unnecessary (Lavi). LD has since become a regular practice in hospices and hospitals, openly recognized and recommended by medical professionals; the AMA, Supreme Court and the Vatican under Pope Pius XII are some of the heavy weights supporting LD (Lavi). LD is the “sublegal ” practice of administering medication necessary to relieve the pain of terminally ill patients even if the effect of the medication may shorten life (Lavi). Euthanasia is understood as an attempt to relieve the dying of suffering the effects of their illness by the use of the advancing technology of medicine. In most cases discussion of euthanasia is tacitly understood as voluntary active euthanasia.
Euthanasia, right to die, or right to kill? Euthanasia is the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy. It is also immoral, wrong, and unnecessary. In Terry Trueman’s, Stuck in Neutral, the author insinuates the ideas of euthanasia. Euthanasia is a very radical decision and not only deals with the very important issue of one’s quality of life but also detracts from the possibility of medical advancements, and may potentially have a very negative effect on society. Euthanasia brings up the issue of determining one’s quality of life, who is issued to determine that quality, and if their decision is actually valid and best for the patient. Some argue that Euthanasia provides a way of relief when a person’s quality of life is considered to be low.
However, in the novel Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, with a patient like Shawn, there is no way of knowing what their true quality of life is or how much pain they are truly in. On the outside, Shawn have must appeared to have an extremely low quality of life. His condition, Cerebral Palsy, has left him no muscle control whatsoever and leaves him spending everyday drooling in his wheelchair. Shawn is actually, unknown to the world to be a very bright, clever boy, fully capable of living a normal life, if not for his condition. Shawn leads a frustrating life, but constantly finds joy and happiness, in spite of these frustrations. “Before, it didn’t matter so much if Dad’s deciding to kill me might stop everything. Now, for some reason it matters a lot! If feeling the way I felt with Ally is this nice, how many other wonderful things might I still get to feel someday?” (Trueman 59) Shawn states this after having a dream about one of his sister’s friends.
He knows he will never be able to truly have a girlfriend, let alone look at a girl voluntarily, but he still lives for experiences like this one and makes the best of his situation. Legalizing euthanasia is immoral for this very reason because it’s taking away someone’s choice and chance of happiness, even if that happiness is in the form of a silent dream and goes unnoticed by the world around it. “Dead. I’m only fourteen years old. What do I think about death? I’m not sure what I think, but I sure know what I feel, because I have looked into death’s eyes one time, and it was horrible.” (Trueman 13) Shawn did not wish to die, and the fact that no one really realized this but rather assumed he had a low quality of life is reason enough not to resort to such a final decision. This also raises the question of, who should really determine one’s quality of life. “People without disabilities judge the quality of the lives of people with disabilities more harshly than do the people with disabilities themselves.
” (Rhoda Olkin, PhD) The quality of life of someone with a disability can not be fairly determined by anyone who has not experienced it for themselves. A healthy person, such as Shawn’s father, has no concept of his son’s true quality of life because Shawn is unable to communicate with him. This proves that euthanizing someone with a disability like this is irrational and unethical. There is no doubt that Shawn’s father, Syd McDaniel, loves him very much and only wants the best for his son, but his father saw him on very few occasions. Mr. McDaniel left not only Shawn but his mother, brother, and sister when he was only four years old. Cases like this are very common.
A relative may care for and wish only the best for their loved one, but their lack of involvement in the life of that loved one does not give he or she the right nor perspective, to choose whether they should live or die. That is a decision no one can make, let alone someone who is clearly selfish in their actions, such as Shawn’s father was. If anyone could truly determine whether Shawn or any terminally ill patient should be “put out of his suffering,” as his dad so delicately puts it, it would be his mother and his siblings who spend each and every day with Shawn. However, they clearly do not believe this is right for their beloved family member. Taking the choice of euthanasia out of the hands of the individual involved, and putting it into the hands of the government or of a third party is not only wrong, but also unethical. Euthanasia is also morally wrong because for many patients, there is no way of determining whether or not they are in severe pain, so there is no real way of telling if there is sufficient misery for them to be put out of.
Shawn’s father is contemplating killing his son because of what he perceives of all his “suffering” which he thinks is a direct result of his seizures. However, he really has no idea whether or not his son is actually suffering. Shawn’s father left the family because he could not handle seeing Shawn experience seizures. What his father does not know is that Shawn’s seizures, in a sense, are the best thing that happens to him. “But I do know what happens when a seizure comes: As the room finishes its swirling, the blue haze lifts and colors become as sharp and clear as crystals. Then, as my laughter winds down to a slow, steady breathing, a part of me rises from my body.” (Trueman 34) His seizures provide an escape from his everyday entrapment. He is able to leave his body and move and function as if he was totally normal.
The fact that his father, or anyone faced with an issue like this, does not fully know whether or not their loved one might truly be suffering leaves much room for doubt that euthanizing them is the right thing to do. Many who are in support of euthanasia look past the fact that there are ongoing medical advancements each day and the power of the human body itself. There is no way of knowing whether Shawn or patients like him may, one day, be able to be cured. There are groundbreaking medical findings every day. No one can be certain that the day after they euthanize a loved one, a cure for their very disability might be discovered. Furthermore, if euthanasia is legalized it could be looked at the easy way out. The desired to develop medical treatments for fatal illnesses has been a major driving force behind life altering medical advancements.
Medical research is necessary to advance medicine further. Allowing a doctor to “kill” a patient instead of trying to save him through medical research may result in laziness in health care. “If euthanasia is legalized we can expect advances in ktenology the science of killing at the expense of treatment and symptom control. This will in turn encourage further calls for euthanasia.” (Peter Saunders) The human body is an amazing thing. Capable of phenomenons that not even the brightest medical experts can explain. This is exemplified through many coma patients.
In the past couple of years there have been several examples of people who wake up out of a coma just before their loved ones decided to “pull the plug”. Thirty one year old Jill Finley was a victim of this. She fell into a coma due to a congenital condition that had caused her heart to stop. Her husband, Ryan Finally, found himself having to make the decision whether or not to “pull the plug.” He did not think he wife would have wished to live in her condition and decided it would be the best. However, just after they had disconnected life support, Jill became restless and started to mumble.
After asking her a series of simple questions Ryan knew that his wife had come back to him. “It’s crazy, absolutely crazy. It’s a miracle I am here.” (Jill Finley) Cases like this may be few, but the reality that someday someone might make a recovery makes the idea of euthanasia completely radical and immoral. Last legalizing euthanasia will have a dramatically negative effect on society.
“Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia involve taking people who are at their weakest and most vulnerable, who fear loss of control or isolation and abandonment—who are in a state of intense ‘pre-mortem loneliness’—and placing them in a situation where they believe their only alternative is to be killed or kill themselves.” (Margaret Somerville) Legalizing the right for one person to kill another is extremely unethical. It devalues the level of respect for human life that every citizen should uphold. It can also been seen as the easy way out and may cause patients to act on the impulse of their emotions. “Of people who requested assisted suicide under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe lethal medication, 46 percent changed their minds after significant palliative-care interventions (relief of pain and other symptoms), but only 15 percent of those who did not receive such interventions did so.” (Somerville).
If euthanasia was legalized countless patients may seek this final treatment when they could be helped through alternative resources which therefore would save their lives. Medical funding and research should be looking into these alternative resources instead of teaching how to lethally inject a patient. Legalizing euthanasia would dramatically affect society and its view on death, because people would look at it as a way out rather than just another of life’s processes. One’s quality of life is a very personal matter and can’t be determined by a third party. Astonishing advancements in medicine are being made everyday to improve this quality of life. Murdering a human by euthanizing them has to be a decision that is made by the patient and or his/her family themselves.
Stuck in Neutral proves this by illustrating one boy’s intrapersonal hope to stay alive and make the best of the life he has.