Recently, Sir Michael Caine rekindled a hot and controversial topic when during a radio interview he admitted that in 1955 he asked a doctor to end his father’s suffering from liver cancer.
“I was in such anguish over the pain he was in that I said to this doctor, I said, ‘Isn’t there anything else you could...just give him and overdose and end this?’ Because I wanted him to go. And he said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, we couldn’t do that.’ And then as I was leaving, he said, ‘Come back at midnight.’ I came back at midnight and my father died at five past twelve. So he’d done it.”
The above account isn’t news as Caine spoke of it over a decade ago. Yet Caine’s remarks are making headlines in newspapers and blogs across the globe as he publically states he is in favor of voluntary euthanasia. Perhaps that’s because the idea of euthanasia sparks such emotion on both sides of the camp. Either you believe under the right circumstances it’s the merciful thing to do or you believe it is murder. There isn’t much gray space in between.
The many faces of euthanasia.
The term euthanasia stems from a Greek word that means “good death” and refers to the act of ending a life in such a way that ends pain and suffering. The medial definition is defined as “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering.” Another less formal definition is “mercy killing” or “assisted suicide.”
From there it gets more complicated. Euthanasia can be categorized as voluntary, nonvoluntary, involuntary, active or passive. Active euthanasia is actually considered criminal homicide and is legal only in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal in three states in America – Oregon, Washington, and Montana – and in the countries of Albania and Luxembourg. For obvious reasons this topic is one of the most active areas of research in bioethics. Euthanasia and the elderly.
Yet, the possibility of legalized voluntary euthanasia is a concern for many, especially, the elderly. With America’s health care situation in such a mess, more and more of our nation’s senior citizens feel like they are a burden to their families. If euthanasia was an option to them, opponents of the act fear people would try to end their life not because of terminal unbearable pain and suffering but because they simply feel everyone would be better off if they were gone.
Terminally ill people are vulnerable. They often don’t know what to do to help themselves, or they aren’t physically able to deal with their pain. The future is wrought with fear and they worry about how their illness will affect everyone else in their lives.
And for the elderly, any decision about euthanasia could be influenced by dementia, confusion, or depression in which case a sound decision isn’t likely.
In the case of Michael Caine’s father, there is talk about whether or not Caine could possibly face legal ramifications for his role in suggesting the overdose. The outraged believe he should be arrested or be stricken of his knighthood.
Perhaps if a living will had been an option to Caine’s father, it would be a nonissue and we wouldn’t still be reading about his passing today.