Euthanasia is the act of ending a life to relieve pain or suffering; a medical professional often does it through drugs. Ethical issues surrounding euthanasia are relevant on both ends: it can be difficult for terminally ill patients to know how their final days should go, and doctors are also faced with the decision of whether or not to end somebody’s life. When death is inevitable, a patient will be faced with a decision about how they want to die. A common dilemma that faces patients in these situations is whether or not they want euthanasia. It cannot be easy to decide for some people. However, if the doctors do not know their dying wishes, they may have to make their judgment calls regarding medical treatment and euthanasia; again, this may cause friction between patients and doctors. The ethical issue for euthanasia is that physicians can apply euthanasia to patients with terminal illnesses, which is considered a violation of the Hippocratic Oath since people have rights that a doctor cannot relinquish.
The utilitarianism model is a theory that can be applied to euthanasia. This model’s initial step is debating whether euthanasia is a good or a bad act. On the other hand, it is difficult to find accurate facts about the debated topic since many arguments exist for and against this procedure.. One of the most common arguments is that euthanasia and assisted suicide are inhumane, thus making them bad actions; however, some arguments say otherwise (Vearrier & Henderson, 2021). It means to help someone die, but in certain situations, it means causing their death gently so they can rest in peace. One of the major issues in the debate over whether to provide legal protection for the right to die is the definition of death (Vearrier & Henderson, 2021). Some believe this discrepancy has been disregarded in cases regarding the right to die in which a person with a cardiac arrest has been pronounced dead even though they had brain activity (Barsness et al., 2020). In such instances, “brain death” can be misunderstood and misdiagnosed because vital organs may still function without any brain function, making it look like brain death.
There are three steps to be followed when applying utilitarianism theory to resolve the ethical issue of euthanasia. The first step is focusing on the individual analysis of the patient. The first ethical consideration of euthanasia focus on terminally ill patients. The patient must decide whether the decisions they make will be for their benefit or the benefit of others (Mulgan, 2019). Legally, patients’ right to refuse treatment must be respected. In such instances, it is difficult to tell who should decide what. If somebody has lost all hope of survival, they may want to speed up the process by ending their own life (Mulgan, 2019). Where this meets euthanasia is that a patient may want to be put to death to relieve them from their suffering and pain.
The second step is applying utilitarianism, which focuses on doctors and their practices. It must decide whether it is right or wrong for a doctor to end a patient’s life to relieve suffering. In the context of a doctor, the principle of non-maleficence (do not cause harm) and beneficence (do good) is used (Keown, 2018). It requires that a doctor balance their duty not to cause harm with their duty to prevent death. Where they cannot achieve this, doctors must be able to justify their actions according to legal requirements; again, this depends on the context in which they find themselves.
In addition to the point above, doctors are required by law to keep confidential records on patients, including any patient who is terminally ill and wishes for euthanasia. If a patient has given consent, the doctor must keep these records as evidence in court should they need to. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that every patient who consents to euthanasia may go on to sue their doctor for wrongful death, although it does set a precedent for this (Keown, 2018). A patient could give their consent but choose not to take any legal action at all. If a doctor fails to provide patients with all the relevant information and does not explain how the treatment will work, they may be committing malpractice (Mulgan, 2019). It is because doctors are required by law again to maintain confidentiality. Therefore, this will lead doctors to make informed decisions on how they can best help their patients.
The final step is taking into consideration the recommendations of utilitarianism. There will be some advice for those, who are interested in making decisions concerning euthanasia themselves. Patients should consider three important factors: the first factor is that they should consider the potential consequences of their decision, as well as the consequences for everyone involved (Smart, 2020). The second factor is that there should be a balance between ‘the good of the patient’ and ‘the good of other people.’ In some cases, doctors may wish to end a patient’s life because they think it will be better for them in the long run. This factor enables doctors to stop the unnecessary suffering of a terminal patient (Smart, 2020). The third factor is that their decision must last for a limited duration. It is because, unless they plan on committing suicide, the patient’s decision will not last forever. Moreover, when this decision has passed, the patient must be willing to accept the consequences of their decision.
In conclusion, someone terminally ill must try to make certain of how they want to be put to death, for this is a very sensitive issue. If it comes about a patient is in this situation, doctors should try to get their family and friends involved and remind the patient that one day this all will end. In the course of time, if a patient chooses euthanasia remember that their doctor has a duty of care towards them; however, excess of this may result in negligence. What is more, doctors need to be aware of the new law regarding assisted suicide. In this case, they can only aid a patient if the patient’s wish is coming from a state of sound mind. Utilitarianism theory gives individuals the power to choose what is most pleasing for them when it comes to the end of their life. It advises people to make decisions about matters such as euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide when they are completely rational and clear-headed. Doctors need to read over a person’s living will and ensure that their patients’ wishes regarding dying are known.
Barsness, J. G., Regnier, C. R., Hook, C. C., & Mueller, P. S. (2020). US medical and surgical society position statements on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia: a review. BMC medical ethics, 21(1), 1-7.
Keown, J. (2018). Euthanasia, ethics and public policy: an argument against legalization. Cambridge University Press.
Mulgan, T. (2019). Utilitarianism. Cambridge University Press.
Smart, J. J. C. (2020). Utilitarianism and its applications. In New directions in Ethics (pp. 24-41). Routledge.
Vearrier, L., & Henderson, C. M. (2021). Utilitarian principlism as a framework for crisis healthcare ethics. In Hec Forum (Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 45-60). Springer Netherlands.