Euthanasia: Dilemma of the century

Jack Kevorkian is the most ardent advocate of physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The assisted-suicide doctor puts his viewpoints into practice. He came to be well-known as Dr. Death. The US pathologist helped 130 people to end their lives. He connected his patients to the machine he had invented himself. It is an instrument that allows patients to inject themselves with a lethal dose of drug intravenously or through a breathing mask. It was always patients who pressed the button on the machine.

Numerous attempts have been made to bring Kevorkian to justice, but every time he gained his acquittal. He was finally convicted of murder when he injected a lethal dose himself for the first time in his practice, because the patient was unable to press the button. Kevorkian allowed the procedure to be videotaped and broadcast on television. The video became the major evidence of his indictment.

At court Kevorkian testified that he had considered euthanasia his professional and human duty. He claimed that he was aware of the fact that it was illegal, so he deliberately committed civil disobedience. He was found guilty of murder.

In last June Jack Kevorkian who had served eight years of his sentence was released on parole under the following conditions: he will never euthanize anyone; he may not nurse people aged 62 and over or have close contacts with physically handicapped people.

Kevorkian who will turn 80 in May did not change his attitude to euthanasia when he was jailed. Two months ago he delivered a public lecture at the University of Florida in front of about 5,000 people. Dr. Death argued that euthanasia should become a medical service for patients who wish to die. He said that he wanted to end his patients’ sufferings, but not their lives. “It has got to be legalized,” he concluded.

All foreign media kept vigilant watch on the destiny of Chantal Sebire. The 52-year old French woman suffered from a rare form of cancer of the nasal cavity for seven years. The malignant tumor disfigured her face, deprived her of sight and taste and caused unbearable pain. Sebire repeatedly applied for permission of euthanasia to courts and to France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. She wanted to die quickly and easily surrounded by her family and being conscious. Her requests were met with blunt refusals.

The story ended on March, 20 2008 when Chantal Sebire was found dead in her own house. The autopsy revealed that Sebire had committed suicide – Sebire had died of barbiturate poisoning. Her terrible tragedy caused great unease in France. Most political and social institutions claimed to reconsider the legislation and to legalize euthanasia. The government promised to analyze and assess working regulations.

French proponents of legal euthanasia are opposed by the Catholic Church. Despite the recent change in attitude to passive euthanasia, the Vatican still associates active euthanasia with murder, comparing it with genocide, abortion and suicide.

Other Christian denominations as well as other religions generally share this opinion. It is not surprising, since from the religious point of view people’s lives do not belong to them. Every human life belongs to God, so human beings have no right to decide whether they should live or die. As for death penalty, the Church has a different point of view for some reason.

Anyway, unreligious ethic attitude to euthanasia is mixed. For every reason there are pros and cons.

Advocates of euthanasia say that the choice is impossible; nobody has a right to make terminally ill patients suffer. Vegetative existence and pain deprive people of dignity and patients themselves want to cease their sufferings and usually resort to much more terrible suicides than an act of painless injection.

Opponents of euthanasia also have serious reasons. For example, one should not shift responsibility to doctors for patients’ mortification. They take into consideration the fact that medicine is rapidly developing and today people can cure diseases that have recently been regarded as incurable. So when doctors euthanize their patients, when deprive them of a chance to wait for a new remedy for their disease.

Terminally ill patients may be abused by their relatives who pay for the medical treatment or expect inheritance that largely depends on medical bills. Relatives may collude with a medical staff and exert pressure on the patient, so that his death would seem voluntary, while he consented to euthanasia under pressure.

But the major and most difficult ethic problem concerns patients who are incapable of deciding whether they should live or die: patients in coma, weak-minded, mentally handicapped, patients with senile marasmus or even small children. If euthanasia is legalized, other people will have to decide for them: doctors, relatives or authorities. Who can guarantee that these decisions will be motivated by humanism and care of the patient’s interests?

Everyone remembers “the healing of the nation” programs developed by Nazis under which they exterminated weak-minded, mentally sick, disabled, homosexual and “racially inappropriate” individuals.


Translated by Julia Bulygina

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov