Ethics and Euthanasia – where do we draw the line?

There are two gargantuan barriers to research and study within the Social Sciences – morals and ethics – and if you’ve ever studied anything surrounding the mental state, wellbeing or outward influences of a person/group of persons, you will undoubtedly be very familiar with their importance. Within the discipline of Sociology, morals and ethics are of the upmost importance; due to the sensitive and often intrusive nature of the discipline, those who concern theirselves with the studying or research into any aspect of any Social Science have to tread cautiously, to say the least. Think of it as walking across a game of Minesweep, with clown shoes on and a dinosaur (of the T-Rex persuasion) tail, after having a few too many drinks at the pub on a Friday night.

However, every now and again the importance and seriousness of morals and ethics slips into the public eye, and suddenly becomes very ‘real’ to those who sweat at the mere mention of ethics within a research proposal – no longer is it simply an impossibly huge section in your ‘Research Proposals for Dummies’ book which you read tirelessly at 2 a.m. on a Monday morning, but something very real, and completely and utterly crucial to the wellbeing of society as we know it.

Now, that all sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it?! Yet, just yesterday I was having a discussion about the lovely Nelson Mandela’s declining health and happened to stumble into a bit of a debate over euthanasia (of all the things to discuss on a Tuesday afternoon, eh?). The topic of euthanasia is incredibly controversial, yet the debate spans back to as far as the Greeks – the word itself originated from the Greek for ‘Eu’ (good) and ‘Thanatosis’ (death), translating to ‘Good Death’ and ‘Gentle and Easy Death’. It seems rather ridiculous that something which spans back to Augustus Caesar’s time on this planet has become so taboo and controversial, right?

… Or is it? Is there a place for morals and ethics within today’s society? Absolutely.

My personal views on euthanasia is, quite simply, that if carried out professionally, under the supervision of multiple medical professionals and counselling, it holds ground and purpose in concerns to terminally ill, ‘vegetated’ people. However, the latter opens a can of very loud and important worms – the consent of the person undergoing euthanasia is vital, but should that person have been living a completely healthy life and suffer a terrible accident in which they are left brain-dead, how could we possibly know for sure that it would be what they wanted? Who do we then hand the responsibility of such a crucial and life-impacting decision? Surely the next of kin, but then what would happen if there was domestic abuse in the relationship? What if the Doctor had something to gain from persuading a person to agree to euthanasia? I will not pretend to be an expert on the pros and cons of euthanasia, despite finding it infinitely interesting. However, I like to think I know a fair deal on morals and ethics, and one thing I can say for certain is that the case of euthanasia is fraught with them.

Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian is an American pathologist, who also just happened to be a euthanasia activist, which rather quickly earned him the title of ‘Dr Death’. Mr Kevorkian was arrested, tried for his role in voluntary acts of euthanasia and served 8 years of his 10-to-25-year prison sentence (he was released on parole in 2007, on condition he would no longer ‘offer suicide advice’ to another person). This man, who claims to have assisted AT LEAST 130 patients in euthanasia famously said ‘dying is not a crime’. Of course, just as the ‘pro-life’ and anti-abortion debate is relative to what an individual believes as to when a baby really becomes a baby, it is in respective as to where an individual makes distinction between murder and a medical decision to end a person’s pain. Kevorkian’s story is symbolic to the sheer magnitude which morals and ethics hold within our society – everything boils down to this; there are certain things which we, as not only a society, but as a collective human-race consider to be morally ‘wrong’ (i.e. murder), yet when things become more ethical, more about what you as an individual would consider to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, the lines become blurred. Is there a deserved place for ethics within society? Indefinitely.  But how could we possibly pass laws and legalise things as controversial as euthanasia when there is no all-encompassing being which can decide what to do for us?… Am I about to enter a discussion on religion, now? Nope. At least, not yet.

Watch this space.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.

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About Amy-Rose

Amy-Rose has now graduated from the University of Leicester.

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