Euthanasia is one of the most acute and uncomfortable contemporary problems in medical ethics. Is Euthanasia Ethical? The case for euthanasia rests on one main fundamental moral principle: mercy.
It is not a new issue; euthanasia has been discussed-and practised-in both Eastern and Western cultures from the earliest historical times to the present. But because of medicine's new technological capacities to extend life, the problem is much more pressing than it has in the past, and both the discussion and practice of euthanasia are more widespread.
Euthanasia is a way of granting mercy-both by direct killing and by letting the person die. This principle of mercy establishes two component duties:
1. the duty not to cause further pain or suffering; and
2. the duty to act to end pain or suffering already occurring.
Under the first of these, for a physician or other caregiver to extend mercy to a suffering patient may mean to refrain from procedures that cause further suffering-provided, of course, that the treatment offers the patient no overriding benefits.
The physician must refrain from ordering painful tests, therapies, or surgical procedures when they cannot alleviate suffering or contribute to a patient's improvement or cure. Perhaps the most familiar contemporary medical example is the treatment of burn victims when survival is unprecedented; if with the treatments or without them the chances of the patient's survival is nil, mercy requires the physician not to impose the debridement treatments , which are excruciatingly painful, when they can provide the patient no benefit at all. Although the demands of mercy in burn contexts have become fairly well recognized in recent years, other practises that the principles of mercy would rule out remain common. For instance, repeated cardiac resuscitation is sometimes performed even though a patient's survival is highly unlikely; although...