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Everyone at some point in their lives has dealt with the invasive, imprecise field of ethics. The question that comes to mind when thinking about the topic is what are ethics? Well, according to Dr. Valdemar W. Setzer, a professor of computer science, “Ethics is not definable, is not implementable because it is not conscious; it involves not only our thinking but also our feeling.” Basically by defining ethics you are acknowledging that morality is a conscious decision, when as Setzer said it’s not. In fact Setzer is closer to the truth then I think he realized because ethics aren’t a belief or a practice, as some believe, but a moral understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong, And using those concepts altruistically.
An ethical decision that has been mainstreaming its way into news for several years is what I’m going to discuss today: The ethical decision of Euthanasia. I’m here to put Euthanasia to the Rotary’s Four-Way-Test, the test Rotary members use to decide whether something is ethical or not. The Four-Way-Test consists of 4 basic questions: Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to all concerned? Will it build Good Will and Better Friendships? And finally will it be Beneficial to all concerned?
Before I delve into the Rotary’s first test of truth I feel that it is my duty to explain what Euthanasia actually is and what it is not. The word Euthanasia is derived from two Greek words that literally mean “Good death.” Euthanasia has been practiced for centuries but is actually illegal in all states of the U.S. Euthanasia has sometimes been called a “License-to-murder”, but it’s not.
Euthanasia is the act of painlessly causing death to an individual who suffer from a terminal illness or a permanent coma. It can be broken down into two different actions, “Active” or “Passive” Euthanasia, I’m here to talk about Active Euthanasia. While Euthanasia is illegal, a practice known as Physician Aid-In-Dying, otherwise known as PAD, is legal in three states: Washington, Oregon, and Montana. You’re probably wondering what PAD actually is and how it differs from Euthanasia. Well, PAD actually requires the patient to self-administer medication that is prescribed by a doctor. The patient in these cases of PAD chooses the time and place for their death and the physician gives the patient the medication in a lethal dose. That’s why PAD is sometimes also known as “assisted suicide.” Before someone is granted PAD three doctors have to corroborate the fact that the patient is in fact dying or that there is nothing else that can be done for them. PAD is a prime example of Active Euthanasia. It’s no wonder the issue of Euthanasia is so controversial, especially to doctors who feel that it is unethical because it violates the oath all doctors sign: the non-maleficence dictum which literally means “do no harm.”
An example of a doctor that is a Euthanasia advocate is Dr. Jack Kevorkian who in Michigan in 1998 demonstrated Active Euthanasia that ended up on the show 60 minutes. Kevorkian, of course, was jailed and charged with second degree murder, though he acted in a compassionate way. Euthanasia Advocacy groups such as Compassion in Dying, and The Hemlock Society are supporters of PAD and Dr. Kevorkian’s efforts. Doctors, like many other people, tend to reach a roadblock based on ethics, raising the question of, Am I acting morally? It’s surprisingly complex to evaluate such a question but then again when is anything worth effort easy?
Kurt Baier, an Austrian moral philosopher has written several books on ethics and has attempted to construct a justification of morality that is grounded in rationality. His theory is that the moral choices we make are supported by perfectly sane reasoning. Nonetheless Baier is not the first nor is he the last philosopher to credit that proper moral decision involves deep reasoning and critical thinking. His theory can be used to support the argument of Euthanasia because Euthanasia involves making a decision that has first been thoroughly calculated before taking action.
In regards to truth as a part of the Rotary’s Four-Way-Test, the principle of Euthanasia is complicated. Without defining ethics, Euthanasia cannot be labeled as right or wrong. All the evidence and personal accounts of Euthanasia allude
to the truth. In that case Euthanasia cannot be labeled as unethical or morally wrong, but rather the cold truth of reality.
Now, as far as fairness goes for the Four-Way-Test it’s sometimes improbable to equate the word fairness with death. Death isn’t fair, but then again neither is life. Is it fair for a man to watch his wife suffer from an illness he cannot heal? Is it fair for parents to feel helpless as their child painfully fades from their world? Is it fair to make someone stay when they want to go? The people that oppose Euthanasia have probably never had to witness a loved one beg for mercy. That’s why they call it Mercy Killing, because in certain cases a merciful, painless death is all that can be given. The question for this part of the Rotary’s Four-Way-Test would be: is Euthanasia fair? Or the even bigger question: Is Euthanasia unfair? It may not be fair but sometime’s fair is not always what’s best for us.
Euthanasia has been named Mercy Killing by those who believe it to be the only course of action left to take. That by itself supports the 3rd part of the Rotary’s Four-Way-Test of good will and friendship. To prove that something is done out of good will is a matter of intent. In the end, doctors who support Euthanasia do so with good intentions. You know what they say about good intentions I’m sure, but aren’t good intentions the definition of good will? Advocates for Euthanasia decide with their heart rather than their head, to me that’s good-will. Euthanasia isn’t exactly conducive to building better friendships but then again sometimes friends have to do things they don’t want to do.
Now for the fourth test: Whether or not the action is beneficial to all. Mercy Killing can be seen as beneficial to those who are out of choices, or time. In some cases death is the only treatment left, and I’d rather let someone I love go in peace rather than in pain. I’m not saying that death ultimately ends pain; all I’m saying is that sometimes death is the only humane way to end pain. Isn’t it beneficial to act as humanely as possible when dealing with those terminally ill? I wholeheartedly believe that Mercy Killing is beneficial to those who are out of options or out of time.
In conclusion I’d like to say that Ethics aren’t about doing the right thing all of the time, they’re about making the right decision for each unique situation. Regarding Euthanasia, is it unethical to end a life when there’s nothing left to live? You can compare Euthanasia to suicide as much as you want but that doesn’t mean you’re right. Ethics are individual to each person and no one can tell another person that their ethics are immoral, not without undermining everything ethics stand for. I sincerely believe that Euthanasia, as an ethical dilemma, passes the Rotary’s Four-Way-Test, and I feel an intense loyalty to defend the morals of Euthanasia in the life I plan to live.