Ethics of Euthanasia

Is it a justifiable idea? And if it is, under what circumstances should it be allowed? To help clarify terms: Euthanasia pertains to a death which functions to benefit the person who dies. This death ultimately requires a final act by someone other than the person who dies. There are many ways this question can be approached and dealt with. In this case, I”ll be referring to a hypothetical situation involving a patient dubbed “MB”. This woman has suffered severe brain damage as a result of an aneurysm. However, her condition is not a classic comatose state. Her waking and sleeping patterns are noticeable as are her responses to pain and pleasure stimuli. Her “speech” is limited to groans which seem to convey displeasure. She has no noticeable reactions to the speech, is able to be mouth fed, and appears to not recognize her family. Financially there are no difficulties posed for the family.

Many euthanasia cases are centered around situations similar to this, and are often justified by proving the patient is “essentially dead”. The term “essentially dead” is difficult to define because of matters of personal morals. In my own opinion “essentially dead” refers to the loss of enough brain function as to prevent the subject from carrying out even the most minimal of cognitive functions. As far as the human aspect of the subject goes, he or she is dead; the only thing left is the biological remains of what used to be that person.

Now the question is: Is MB “essentially dead”? In some aspects, she certainly is not. Her reactions to pain and pleasure stimuli are synonymous with each respective stimulus (i.e. she reacts positively to positive stimuli and negatively to negative stimuli). Along the same lines, she also displays emotions of displeasure by means of groaning. All of these are signs of cognitive function occurring in the brain.

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