Monday, February 9, 2009

Euthanasia Ethics

This morning on the way to work my father hit a deer on the highway. Luckily, neither he nor his truck were harmed in any way. It was a different story for the deer, however. My dad pulled over to see the animal struggling—and failing—to get to its feet. He stood by and observed it, hoping that it would die on its own, but sadly it remained alive and injured, lying by the side of the road. My dad had nothing on him save a tiny penknife, and he couldn’t bring himself to hunt around for a vein, brutally stabbing and likely missing the jugular. So, disheartened and disgusted, he called a friend and asked him to come and shoot the deer to end its suffering.

That’s not a very happy story, is it? And the irony and symbolism definitely weren’t lost on me. Yes, sadly we’ll be facing a similar situation with Shorty in the near future (it could be tomorrow, it could be next month, but it’s definitely coming). The point is that, in effect, by “putting an animal to sleep” (a somewhat misleading euphemism), you’re essentially playing God. Euthanasia ethics—how do you know what the right thing is? How do you define quality of life?

In Shorty’s case, it’ll probably be a very gray area. His fever and edema is expected to return soon, and when it does, he’ll start feeling sick. But does that mean he doesn’t want—or deserve—to live? He can’t tell us how he’s feeling, so we can only go my external indicators like appetite and brightness of expression. Give the shot too soon, and you risk robbing him of what could have been happy times. Give it too late, and make him suffer unnecessarily. Again, Shorty has no choice or say whatsoever in the situation—we will literally be making life-and-death decisions for him. No wonder I’m so sad….

I know that I, for one, would want to have the option of euthanasia if I were suffering with no chance of recovery. If I was comatose, or quadriplegic, or in constant pain with nothing to live for, I think I’d want the decency to pass on my own terms rather than prolong my misery. I don’t know why people seem to have such a problem with this issue—give the dying the respect they deserve and allow them to make their own choices. Anything less is cruelty.

It’s when you make the choice for someone else that it really gets complicated. No one can say for sure what the “right” thing is, so all you can do is get an educated opinion, try not to let emotions cloud your judgment, and hope and pray that you’re doing the right thing.


Sam said...

I wrote a paper on Euthanasia in 10th grade. My dad was dying in a nursing home and I knew and my mom knew that he wouldn't have wanted to die like that. But there was nothing we could do legally at least. People never think that they could actually be prolonging someone's misery by keeping them alive for their own selfishness

Mozart said...

I'm sorry to hear about your father.

Euthanasia is a tricky, tricky subject. Death is always hard on everyone involved, even--and perhaps especially--the survivors. The whole "playing God" aspect only makes things harder.