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Hanna Alladina

BioEthics Euthanasia
April 2018

Should an individual suffering mental illness have the right to euthanize themselves?

Science can be used in many ways to effectively find a solution to a problem. We know just
about every decision is a potential opportunity for effective problem solving. (The science of
problem solving April 11, 2017) Science enables us to understand why and how something is
the way it is. Even in complex dilemmas in relation to bioethics, science is applicable. To
deliberately permit the death of an incurable individual in order to relieve their suffering has
never been unequivocal. And to deliberately permit the death of an individual who is not
terminally ill, in order to relieve mental suffering, may seem cowardly, it may seem unjustifiable.
However, as society progresses, doctors are making it more prevalent that the state of suffering
through a mental illness can be just as painful as physical illness. The English philosopher
Francis Bacon introduced the term euthanasia to be an act of painless death, without suffering.
A new concept is emerging in that euthanasia is much more humane in some cases than life
itself (Piccirilli Dorsey, Inc.). Nonetheless, it is necessary to find out whether people have the
right to decide if they themselves deserve to die or to live further, regardless of being terminally
ill. Further, it is unlikely that all of humanity will come to consensus in this issue, however, with
the use of scientific knowledge and application, we can form fact based opinions to solve this
problem.

“Dr. Lieve Thienpont, doctor, respected psychiatrist and prominent euthanasia advocate,
believes that when modern medicine can’t relieve suffering, euthanasia should be an option.”
(What could help me to die?” Doctors clash over euthanasia. October 25, 2017)
There is an incredible amount of controversy surrounding this issue, and part of the reason
being that people do not know what exactly happens when an individual is euthanized. What is
put into the body to make this death so peaceful?
Typically, three main drugs are used in lethal injection. Sodium thiopental is used to induce
unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to cause muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest, and
potassium chloride to stop the heart. The patient usually dies as the result of anoxemia caused
by the muscle relaxant. (the barbiturates) When death is delayed, potassium chloride is
administered to quicken cardiac arrest. Barbiturates are the most commonly used and effective
method for euthanasia; they are fatal in large doses as they cause the nervous system to slow
down, eventually to a point where it stops telling the body to keep the respiratory system
working, and breathing ceases. Another method is both secobarbital capsules and
pentobarbital, which have been used either alone or in combination for euthanasia.

The safety and effectiveness of these drugs in inducing a peaceful, unharmful death has been
proven around the world in places where euthanasia is legal, such as Netherlands, Belgium,
Canada, and Switzerland. (Drugs Aging (1999)) Studies, case reports, and recommendations
concerning the drugs used for euthanasia were researched using a MEDLINE and Cancerlit
search. Recent research, mainly from the Netherlands, has shown that barbiturates are effective
for euthanasia. Knowing these methods are safe and reliable, it is now notable to mention that
these methods are ethically safer, and also less painful than alternative methods of suicide such
as jumping off bridges, shooting or hanging oneself. Which is why those suffering a mental
illness may choose to euthanize themselves. Dr Philip Nitschke, argues that “the depressed and
suicidal should be assisted to die (if they so choose) through humane medical treatment. If the
dying can be lethally jabbed or prescribed, why not the severely depressed” (Or those suffering
other severe mental disorders) (Methods of Euthanasia, 2017)
Hanna Alladina
BioEthics Euthanasia
April 2018

I too support the position that euthanasia for those suffering a mental illness should be allowed.
To prohibit this medical act, we are artificially prolonging a life that has no meaning to the bearer
of that life. If one has no will to live, if one has attempted to numb their mind and bodies and
escape from their own reality with drugs, they should be allowed the sweet freedom of death.
And it is no one else’s choice but their own to decide to do so. If it is said that human beings
have free will, that free will should include not only how we live our lives, but also how long we
live them for. For whose who believe otherwise, the belief may be stemming through personal
fears of mortality.

“In Ghent, Belgium, after struggling with mental illness for years, Cornelia Geerts was so
desperate to die that she asked her psychiatrist to kill her. The 59-year-old was taking more
than 20 pills every day, including antidepressants, an opioid, a tranquilizer, and two medicines
often used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.” (What could help me to die?” Doctors
clash over euthanasia. October 25, 2017)
About a year later, her doctor administered a lethal dose of drugs. This woman was suffering.
She got the relief she needed and deserved. But that is the ethical debate. There are always
complications behind these human decisions, especially ones as controversial as this literal a
life or death situation.

As proven, there are several reasons those with severe mental illness should be allowed, but
what are the impacts of having this allowed? Some may say that because pain is subjective,
where do we draw the line as to who can and cannot be euthanized. This is the moral and social
controversy. With regards to mental illness, doctors have to trust their patients. We cannot
always see pain. With regards to those terminally ill, there are physical signs, thus why it is
more accepted as a reason to be euthanized. But what we don't fully understand as as society
yet, is that mental pain is at least as severe as the pain experienced by patients with a terminal
illness. It is true that candidates for euthanasia are supposed to be stable enough to make an
informed decision. But, almost all people who wish to commit suicide have mental health
problems, thus are not mentally stable as their chemical balance is off. People say that once
these chemical imbalances are recognized, the patient can usually be treated or controlled.
People say the patient will be able to get help. But when you are in that position, with no will to
live, there is nothing psychiatric help or drugs can do past a certain point to make you feel
otherwise. And if these people truly wish to escape the reality, they should do it in a respected
facility. Doctors who perform the ‘service’ of euthanizing a patient can be referred to as an Angel
of death. The angel of death assumes the patients position and may or may not take action
depending on how informed with their decision they think the patient is.

Pierre Pol Vincke wishes his daughter Edith could have gotten that relief — and perhaps
continued to live. “She said, ‘Dad, you understand science, what could help me to die?” said
Vincke, “I said, as a father, I can’t do that.” Doctors refused her euthanasia request, despite
years of psychiatric illness. On November 3, 2011, Edith slashed her throat.” (“What could help
me to die?” (Doctors clash over euthanasia, October 25, 2017)

The impacts of not administering the means of escape this sufferer needed, led to a more
painful and traumatizing way to leave this life. In the end, it is ones own choice as to what one
does in regards to their body. If one chooses to die, at least they should be allowed to go safely
and in peace.
Hanna Alladina
BioEthics Euthanasia
April 2018

Bibliography:

(Willems, D.L., Groenewoud, J.H. & van der Wal, G. Drugs Aging (1999) 15: 335. https://
doi.org/10.2165/00002512-199915050-00001)

Essays, UK. (November 2013). Free Will And Euthanasia Philosophy Essay. Retrieved from
http://www.ukessays.com/essays/philosophy/free-will-and-euthanasia-philosophy-essay.php?
vref=1

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/ap-exclusive-doctors-clash-over-euthanasia-for-
mentally-ill/