Good afternoon; before we begin, I would like you to imagine a scenario for me. Visualise yourself confined to a bed, unable to lead the active lives you do now, watching the world pass you by, breathing with the aid of a machine. No hopes of a cure, no hope of escape, only able to count the minutes, day, months, waiting for death, now consider living like that for 10 years. Now how would you feel if I told you that this was indeed the reality for Spanish women Immaculade Echevarria after being told she would never recover, being told that the remainder of her life would be spent on her back, under medical supervision, a tube down her throat, she like many decided that this wasn’t really living. Thus she made several attempts to request active Euthanasia. After being denied again and again for both moral and religious reasons she was however able to refuse her treatment. Which I must stress is not the same s Euthanasia, which would have been a quick painless death; in the end Mrs Echevarria suffered a slow agonising suffocation.
Classmates, I would now like you to consider what you would do in the same situation? Would you wish to take a dignified way out, when no hope remained? So today I will be discussing the morality of Euthanaisa, the benefits and what it really means, for although I’m sure many of you will have herd the term, you may just be unaware of its true meaning.
To fully understand what Euthanasia is, we need to look at the origin of the world; Euthanasia comes from ancient Greece, and means ‘good death’. The ancient Greeks and Romans generally did not believe that life needed to be preserved at any cost and were, in any consequence, tolerant of suicide in cases where no relief could be offered to the dying or, in the case of the Stoics and Epicureans, where a person no longer cared for his life. So even in this ancient society, a society which prided itself on its logic, reason and morality, considered the choice of how one dies is just as important as their choice of how to live.
Indeed we can see in cases as recent as the 20th century; where assisted suicide, is seen as acceptable; Religion Reverend Geoffrey Morris 74 makes the comment that when – “a soldier in battle confronted with a colleague dying in agony from his wounds is almost morally obliged to shoot him or provide him with a loaded gun to shoot himself. Yet dying patients can’t expect of doctors engaged in the same battle for health the same merciful end to their agony. There is something wrong here. Even suffering animals are humanly dispatched”
“I have no doubt that the loving God I worship would understand”
To most members or the religious community Euthanasia is completely unacceptable as it is against the will of god to murder someone, but it is not unnatural to keep someone alive on 20 – 30 pills a day what is natural about using medicine to keep a person living longer. in the insect world once a male has mated it is eaten by the female and when the offspring are born the mother is eaten by the children. For mammals to be kept alive for years past their time is just as unnatural.
Moreover I would argue that if every human being has the right to life, and that this right is perhaps the most basic and fundamental of all our rights. Furthermore that with every right there is choice. For example the right to speech does not remove the option to remain silent; the right to vote brings with it the right to abstain. Therefore in the same way, the right to choose to die is implicit in the right to life. If one can choose how they live, surly they should be able to choose the manner of their death.
I think this point is particularly poignant in cases like Miss Immaculade, those who are in the late stages of a terminal disease have a horrific future ahead of them: the gradual decline of their body, the failure of their organs and the need for artificial support. In some cases, the illness will slowly destroy their minds, the essence of themselves; even if this is not the case, the huge amounts of medication required to ‘control’ their pain will often leave them in a delirious and incapable state. Faced with this, it is surely more humane that those people be allowed to choose the manner of their own end, and die with dignity. Indeed diseases such as AIDS, which has no cure, no relief, where death is inevitable. Alzheimer’s, a condition that destroys the mind before the body, indeed a good friend of mine has a relative with this condition, and Katherine agrees that if they could see the condition in which they were in they would want for their life to end. For it is mortifying to know your mind is deteriorating to the state of not recognising you family.
Yet it is not merely the individual who can suffer, because of the current laws on euthanasia; at the moment, doctors are also being put in an impossible position. A good doctor will form close bonds with their patients, and will want to give them the best quality of life they can; however, when a patient has lost or is losing their ability to live with dignity and expresses a strong desire to die, they are legally unable to help. To say that modern medicine can totally eradicate pain is a tragic over-simplification of suffering. While physical pain may be alleviated, the emotional pain of a slow and lingering death, of the loss of the ability to live a meaningful life, can be horrific. A doctor’s duty is to address his or her patient’s suffering, be it physical or emotional. As a result, doctors will in fact already help their patients to die – although it is not legal, assisted suicide does take place. It would be far better to recognise this, and bring the process into the open, where it can be regulated. True abuses of the doctor-patient relationship, and incidents of involuntary euthanasia, would then be far easier to limit.
Indeed there are also the families of these people to consider; watching a loved ones suffer and knowing there is no way to help, must surly be both emotionally stressful and painful. Moreover not knowing how a loved one is feeling, for Suicide is a lonely, desperate act, carried out in secrecy and often as a cry for help. The impact on the family who remain can be catastrophic. By legalising assisted suicide, the process can be brought out into the open. In some cases, families might have been unaware of the true feelings of their loved one; being forced to confront the issue of their illness may do great good, perhaps even allowing them to persuade the patient not to end their life. In other cases, it makes them part of the process: they can understand the reasons behind their decision without feelings of guilt and recrimination, and the terminally ill patient can speak openly to them about their feelings before their death.
Yet what is perhaps more strange is why some countries have legalised assisted Euthanasia and others are still refusing, why is it morally acceptable somewhere, and morally unacceptable somewhere else. In the Netherlands, for example, voluntary euthanasia has been legal since 1983, with some 3,000 people requesting it each year and then In Australia, assisted suicide was legalised in the Northern Territories with the backing of a substantial majority of the local population, but was then overthrown by the Federal Senate before anyone could actually use the new law.
The British social attitudes survey published recently on the 25 January this year revealed that 4 out of 5 people in the UK support the suggestion that a doctor should probably or defiantly be allowed by law to end the life, at the patient’s request, of an individual with an incurable or painful illness from which they will die.
In May 2006, the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill which would have allowed terminally ill patients to have medical assistance to die if they so choose, which included many medical safeguards, was defeated in the House of Lords at its second reading 148 votes to 100. Yet no where have I been able to find out why, as there are so many reason why the bill would have made a difference. As today in many countries there is a shortage of hospital space. The energy of doctors and hospital beds could be used for people whose lives could be saved instead of continuing the life of those who want to die which increase the quality of care and shortens hospital waiting lists, one of the main reasons for complaints about hospitals is the shortage of space and the waiting lists.
So classmates, what conclusion have you now come to? Where do you stand in this controversial debate? I fully accept that if Britain were to legalise active and assisted Euthanasia that there would need to be strict guidelines and rules to follow ensuring the right to end ones own life is not abused. But surely this is our right, our right to choose a dignified death, rather than a slow and lingering submission. We should learn from our European neighbours, see how it has benefited countless families and perhaps then we should look to ourselves, it is very hard to try and appreciate how the people who request active Euthanasia are feeling, I hope sincerely that none of you are ever in that position. But just consider for one moment the possibility that you or a loved one close to you was suffering, that they wished to choose a dignified death, but were unable because the law prevented it, just ask yourself how would you feel…