Live and Let Die

By Janice Antoniette Förster | Last Updated May 2, 2012

The ‘Right To Die’ debate is not new. Many people argue that when the patient has a terminal illness and the pain is agonizing, ending his life terminates the suffering, soothes the situation and saves medical resources. Should we allow it or not?

A photo of a hospital patient.

Is it easy to see that in the near future the right to choose to die will be recognized the same way we recognize the right to freedom of speech or the right to choose our religion?

Look around us. When a person reaches old age and has been suffering for years from age-related conditions, he or she will realized that money to support medical needs and hospital services has made dying a complex process. While ages ago, a lot of people die due to diseases that were unknown to medical science and impossible to treat given the limited medical technology back then, modern medical changes have allowed us to extend life.

All these changes have made possible what most people want in the first place: to keep their loved ones from dying for as long as medicine, science and their finances can afford while the patient still shows a reasonable chance of recovering.

However, for others whose illnesses show no sign of recovery, when the fight seems so long and no longer worth it, patients and their equally suffering family members feel that their wish to shorten the agony is ignored. Medical professionals and religious circles staunchly oppose their wish as they start citing legal and moral issues.

The question is, until when should we stand on the side of protecting and defending life?

The Terri Schiavo Case

Remember the life and death tug-of-war of Theresa Marie “Terri” Schiavo? She was the woman from St. Petersburg, Florida, who in 1990 had a cardiac arrest that caused catastrophic brain damage accompanied by respiratory failure and seizures. This left her in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) with no hope of recovery. 1 Her husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo filed a petition to stop her life support in 1998. It fired a long debate over legal guardianship, bioethics, civil rights, euthanasia, and federalism that raised conflicting views — to keep her alive or let her die. 2 She passed away in 2005, 15 years later, after a long battle of opposing public and legal opinions that involved a lot of appeals, motions, petitions and hearings that had the feeding tube removed and re-inserted multiple times. 3

Protesters outside Terri Schiavo’s hospice. The photograph was taken around 1 PM, March 27, 2005
in front of Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, by [email protected]

Up until the end, her parents fought against this decision and thought that while she was lying motionless, she was aware of what was going on around her, silent but responsive. They believed she could still recover and that she still had the right to live. This was later proven impossible through the biopsy she underwent after her death that showed how her brain had withered to half the size of a healthy, normal person. 4

The Peirgiorgio Case

Another controversial case was about Piergiorgio Welby who battled muscular dystrophy and paralysis for 40 years. He begged president Giorgio Napolitano to allow doctors to remove him from his respirator and sedate him to ease his pain until he dies. 5 Through a computer that reads his eye movements, he said:

I love life, Mr. President. Life is the woman who loves you, the wind through your hair, the sun on your face, an evening stroll with a friend. Life is also a woman who leaves you, a rainy day, a friend who deceives you. I am neither melancholic nor manic-depressive. I find the idea of dying horrible. But what is left to me is no longer a life. 6, 7 

Piergiorgio Welby Bedridden

Piergiorgio Welby – Photo from site www.lucacoscioni.it

He was on life support since 1997 and got what he wanted when it was unplugged in 2006 in “full respect of his rights, the law and the constitution.” This was done in spite of risks that the doctor might face charges 8, 9.

Other cases

There are hundreds of other cases like these such as that of Christine Busalacchi 10, 11 and Nancy Cruzan. 12

The Questions

There are only very few countries that legalize euthanasia, otherwise called doctor-assisted suicide. 13, 14, 15 But what happens when these predicaments occur in countries where euthanasia is considered illegal and the Church strongly forbids it? Is it right for the government and any religious organization to prolong a patient’s life by artificial means even if the desire to live is gone?

The map showing the legality of Euthanasia throughout the world

Legality of Euthanasia throughout the world (Image taken from commons.wikimedia.org)

Euthanasia is a process of helping a terminally ill person to die to relieve them of their pain. 16, 17 However, therein lay issues and questions that one has to address, such as:

  • Under what circumstances can “mercy killing” be justifiable, if at all? Are we at the moral borderline of murdering someone and letting the patient die?
  • How do you determine whether a life is still worth living for or not? When the situation is unbearable, what conditions should be considered? Is it too much pain, a terminal disease? How about the feeling of helplessness in the case of severe disabilities? Many people seek euthanasia because of psychological factors such as the fear of loss of dignity or control, the feeling of being a burden to family and the people who care for them, the hatred of being dependent on others and depression.
  • In cases when the patient could no longer talk or decide coherently, should the family members, who are left behind, decide for the patients? How about the doctors or the government?
  • Is euthanasia an act of kindness for the sick or a crime that violates the Hippocratic Oath? 18, 19
  • Are we about to give patients a control over the manner and timing of their death or can it easily be an excuse for the act of neglect for the poor, the old, and the disabled? If the continued life support financially and emotionally burdens the family members of the patient, does it become a duty to die?
  • What alternatives do we have when the faithful believe that death should be left to Him who provides us life?

Perhaps right now we are focusing more on other social issues of whether we should allow trans-genders to join Miss Universe, legalize gay marriage or abortion. But when we are faced with cases like Schiavo’s and Welby’s, the questions once again lay flat on our face: why do we want to save criminals from death penalties but hate ending the suffering of a good person? Why is it that when a person wants to die peacefully and painlessly, it becomes wrong? What happened to “free will” and “freedom of choice”?

We may want to ask ourselves.




Reactions

  1. Every person has always the right to live their lives according to their will. shutting down somebody’s life just because the recovery is quite hopeless is kind of stupid. When you die, there is no turning back and no second chances. All we want in life is to serve God, be loved, be respected, be happy and contented and you couldn’t just simply take that away from me. You do not plan my death, you respect it. I hope ‘mercy killing’ would be put to an end and the law wouldn’t just take this easy because we are talking about living things, things which are “worth” living for.

    • There are other patients however, who are more concerned about what will happen to the love ones they leave behind when all the financial resources are depleted and there is no guarantee for healing. I guess each patient looks at death differently, and it has to do with whether they feel they have lived their lives and are ready to go, their financial issues, religious views and other emotional aspects. As mentioned in the article, it then becomes a question on whether the patient, his family or anyone but Him has the right to decide that the suffering ends or not.

  2. I never believed in the concept of mercy killing – it seems stupid and pointless. Kill a person just to relieve him/her of suffering? What would he/she get after? Death? I believe that each and every person is worth his/her life and deserves to have every opportunity and chance to continue living.

  3. i think ‘Mercy killing ‘ should be legal.
    firstly it should depend decision of the person who is suffering and second on his/her family.
    how about if the person who wants ‘ mercy killing’ be agnostic or atheist…
    how about if the person who wants ‘mercy killing’ doesn’t have any religion…
    who we are to decide about someone else life…?
    is it right that we decide for someone else life based on our believe about god and religion…?

  4. I truly believe that everybody deserves a second chance, – As a Christian, we obey the words of GOD,
    as what HE said, Though Shall Not Kill . So why bother having an option to let a person die, well in fact as medicine can prolong someones life? as what the previous comment says that “each and every person is worth his/her life and deserves to have every opportunity and chance to continue living.”

  5. I think ‘ mercy killing’ must be legal…
    it should depend on a person who is suffering and his\her family…
    why we decide for another person life based on our religious believe …
    maybe that person don’t believe in God or is not religious…

  6. If a person is already suffering, he/she has the right to die. When someone is about to die, it is the plan of our Lord God to take him/her back too heaven to have a peaceful afterlife. Mercy-killing should be legal if the case is already severe and cannot be recovered anymore.

  7. “Live and Let Die”…when we think about it, sometimes, death is a lot more kinder to us than life. when we have illnesses that had robbed us of our freedom to do things, placing us in a unresponsive state and made to wither away without any hope…in those time, death is a lot more preferable and kinder to the ill… that, however, does not mean that we could make decisions whether one lives or dies when illnesses that had made us unable to even move. the”The Peirgiorgio Case” is one where the victim himself had asked for the way he would die. He is motionless, unable to move or even talk. For him who is aware of the people around him but unable to even make any response at all due to his condition… well, it was a nightmare to him. A pain that hurts him not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well… he himself had asked and so one can’t truly blame him for his decision.

  8. Personally, I think there needs to be a voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. I’m up for the voluntary euthanasia. As far as I’m concerned, we all have different views for our life and we are free to choose whatever we desire. In other words, we have the power to decide. So if one does not want to live in torture and grief , it is ultimately one’s right to do what they please with their life. And I think the scenarios would still be the same in both cases, like someone who is in unbearable agony and is already beyond our help would still end up dying. I mean, there are people who do it to their pets who can’t give consent, why not do it to humans who do give their consent?

  9. I had a classmate in high school who recently died on February 21, 2013 because of stage four Nasopharyngeal CA. I… believe that the sick person has the right to voice out his/her want of stopping medications because he/she’s tired. I saw how tired my classmate was. I was there, seeing him suffer. I felt the pain by the thought of him increasing his hopes whenever the tumor was gone… and his shattered dreams of studying in a prestigious school and becoming the best CPA lawyer when the tumor came back in the picture. My ears listened to his cries screaming “I’m tired… I just know…”

    I respect these sick people’s decisions. It’s just more than the cure.

  10. euthanasia was topic of the argumentative essay that i wrote for my BC12 class.
    and i oppose to this. In a Christian world view, there are several reasons why euthanasia should not be authorized. First, while happiness is important, death is not the point of life. The main point of life is to glorify, enjoy and serve the living God. Furthermore, we should not glorify pain and suffering. I can grow through them and learn from it in order to teach others to value life. Second, because I am equally a member of the community with individual rights, I have duties and responsibilities to that community. Therefore, I must make the necessary decisions in light of how these will affect those around me. Lastly, my life is a gift from God, and I should face my own death as I believe He would have me face it. 🙂

  11. “Mercy Killing” should not be the right term because there is no mercy when a person kills… I still believe that God gave each of us the chance to live and therefore He is the only one that has the right to take our lives back. I almost died when I was ten years old because of Stage 4 Hemmoraegic Dengue. Everyone was hopeless after seeing my platelet count of 9 and having no available medicine for an IV to IV blood transfusion. My doctor stayed with me for 10 long hours trying all means and all of her knowledge to keep me alive until slowly my platelet count started to go up. Doctors help us to be alive and wouldn’t it be immoral for them and to their profession if they have to assist suicide in some patients? I still believe that it is everyone’s right to live. With the advent of modern technology, surely and eventually these issues of Euthanasia be solved in a moral way.

  12. As a Christian, i boldly say NO to euthanasia or commonly known as “mercy killing” for the reason that only God has the right and the power to take away our lives. the end doesn’t justify the means may be applicable to this situation. Suffering from pain is part of our lives, it may sometimes be called a “promo” if we were to put it in jokes. why? because we did not desire for it, we don’t really want it. Free will and freedom of choice are present but we should always make it sure that we are using both for what is good and on what God’s will is for us.

  13. Mercy killing should not be legalized. Even though some people would say that it is better to end the life of their loved ones than to see them suffer, it is still not right to end someone’s life. We don’t decide for other people’s lives, it is God. He was the one who gave us the gift of life and he has only the right to take it away from us.

  14. The right to die depends on the person’s decision. As a Christian, i believe that God have given us a life and He is the only one who has the right to take one’s life. taking one’s life may make you feel guilty afterwards. you’ve come to think of why you did such thing and why you didn’t stand on what you think is right. if this situation comes, a very deep thinking and considerations (ethical, and moral and also spiritual) must be done.

  15. As for me, it depends. If for example you have a patient, let’s say who have been admitted for almost half a year. Then you could observe his/her family work hard and struggle in order to cope with the bills, medication and the maintenance of whatever machine has been plugged to your patient’s body. So therefore as part of the health care team taking care of the said patient I would really suggest the said “mercy killing”. This is also to lessen the burden that the family is experiencing and especially if the patient has a lesser chance of surviving. Basically my family had experienced this, well not really. It was just my Lolo has been suffering for approximately 15 years due to Cerebrovascular Attack or “stroke”. We admitted him to the hospital. The doctor told us that if we opted to choose to attach machines with his body he could still survive, for around 3 days but later on, he would die. Of course, it was expected that the offer is much expensive, REALLY EXPENSIVE. We were in a battle at that moment, we wanted him to last but we don’t want him to suffer. Now that he has rest in peace, I hope he’s happy 🙂 Despite of everything that just happened within our family, apart of me is still an advocate of LIFE.

  16. We do not have the right to end someone’s life. But if the person who is suffering decides so, I believe we should consider it because we are not the one who is suffering. We cannot question his decision because that’s what he feels and this does not mean that he is being selfish on his part. i think he’s also thinking that continuing his life would not be of great help for their family and would somehow affect their financial status.

  17. Freedom? A terrifying word don’t you think? All of us were born with this gift. Freedom of speech, choice, and expression. I strongly believe that this is the holy trinity that stirs the most confusion. Once all the three have been inculcated in a individual everything follows. Here is where I stand. We have the freedom to chose to live or die. Yes! But, the question I pose now is did you chose to live? I guess what I’m trying to put across is the fact that since we did not chose to live we therefore cannot chose to take life away despite the turmoil and pain one is going through. This my friends is simply because God holds our fate in his hands. All we have to do is put our trust and faith in him for he has plans for us. Plans that are eternal! Live! Love life. #16 (Hagedorn) XD

  18. As a student nurse, I now we would be dealing a lot of scenarios like this. Maybe some would consider euthanasia for financial reason since medical care is a very expensive investment and some may engage to euthnasia to end the suffering of their love ones. Yes, I believe that we don’t have the right to end a person’s life but in situations like this, I would consider it as an exception. Most especially in cases where in its the patient’s decision to end his/her life. I’ve learned that as a care provider we have to guide our patients in decision making and at the same time respect their decisions.

  19. Euthanasia is not practice in the Philippines because Filipinos have closed family ties. In our culture, we value our family and we take care of our love ones especially when they are sick. Mercy Killing has disadvantages as well as advantages, but i prefer more on being an Anti-Euthanasia. Because we will exert our best effort to help our love one who are in pain.

  20. I have never been one to agree with euthanasia. For me, it is just a kind of killing with lesser weight of violence but still putting an end to someone’s God-given life. I believe that God has the only power and right to make someone live another chance or not. Why is mercy killing even done? Is it because of the increasing hospital bills or is it witnessing the person suffer is just so painful or both?. Yes, it is undeniable that it is heartbreaking to see especially our loved one suffer to death but we don’t exactly know what God’s plans are. What if the by the moment the oxygen tank is turned off, that should be the time that that patient should have been alive and well again because God has given him or her another chance? That could be more painful. I believe everything happens for a reason but let that reason be according to God’s will and not on our own human will and instincts.

  21. For one, God has rightfully gave us life and that He has the right to take it back in His right time, in His own way. But sometimes i do understand why mercy killing is observed where the main reason is to end the suffering of the patient. Yet, i have a firm belief that if it is part of God’s will, then so be it. Only God can decide, we just have to trust Him..

  22. I think the answer here is more on morality. Its immoral and illegal(here in the Philippines) to “kill” a person just because he/she is suffering from an illness and cant be cured. On the other hand many people believe that this is good. That it is good to end a person’s suffering there and then than for him/her to live the rest of their life in pain. As a faithful Christian, I believe it is wrong to kill a person’s life like that.

  23. Other people can’t make his/her decision because it’s his own free will to allow the doctor/s to end his suffering. If the situation is hopeless then it’s time for the person to have a eternal rest. It sounds stupid but it’s reality, we have to understand and respect the person because it’s his life and he is the one suffering. Put it in this case, If you are in so much pain and it can’t be treated or healed, do you still want to continue you’re life knowing that you can’t even end the pain your into? It’s so depressive and it drives you to do the decision.

  24. i don’t exactly approve Mercy Killing if it doesn’t have any permission from the person involved. But as long as you can, support him/her and never decide his/her death. Because for me there is no such thing as mercy in killing, no matter how you see her/him in pain, it is not our decision to take his/her life away….

  25. For me i don’t approve about Mercy Killing if i’m in the situation that is suffering and dying i will fight for my illness in order to survive and just Pray to God. Because only God knows when or how my life will end and i will thank God for a wonderful gift of life he gave to me.

  26. 5th commandment says: “THOU SHALL NOT KILL”. NO one has the right to end’s someone’s life except God.
    Miracles do happen, we just need to have strong faith in God.
    I’ve read some opinions that they agree with euthanasia mainly because of financial costs of keeping a person on a life support machine which i don’t see it as a reason, somewhat they are just being selfish.

  27. If your love one’s condition can no longer be reverse and he/she is suffering then i would recommend euthanasia. Because if you wont, you are only prolonging the suffering of the patient and the medical cost of extending the patients life may be too expensive for the family to bear. If the patient is already in a state where only machines is keeping him/her alive then I think euthanasia would be best.

  28. “Mercy killing”, as a christian if you done your mission in earth and can GOD decide that he/she want to you go to rest…

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