Ethical Issue in Nursing: Euthanasia

Introduction

As with most other professions, all nursing profession practitioners are bound by rules and regulations that govern how they go about their duties. These rules and regulations are sometimes legally enforceable. Nurses also face numerous ethical issues in the line of duty. While some of these ethical issues are resolved by following the ethical standards and guidelines for nurses, others rely primarily on the nurses’ principles and value system to be solved.

These values may sometimes not be in line with the legal obligations of the nurse. Johnstone (2008) articulates that while ethical standards that hinge on personal beliefs and principles may suffice when caring for a loved one in a home setting, they may not be irrefutable when dealing with strangers in the work environment. This paper shall set out to give a detailed and conclusive description of euthanasia as an ethical dilemma that nurses are often faced with at work.

Euthanasia: A brief overview

Euthanasia can be defined as a medical act or practice through which a terminally ill patient is assisted to die. It is illegal in most countries. Euthanasia has in the recent past aroused a heated debate in the medical and ethical arenas. While its proponents push for its legalization, opponents of the act have equally forwarded their arguments against its legalization. As such, up to date, there is yet to be a neutral and conclusive solution to the issue (BMJ Journals, 2011).

Literature review: The ethical dilemma regarding euthanasia

Considering the professional manner in which nurses are expected to act, it may be argued that personal ethics should only play a secondary role in the decision-making process of the nurse since they sometimes hold no scientific backing. However, total disregard for one’s belief system may lead to psychological disturbances and hence greatly affect the productivity of the nurse (Nemie, 2009 & BMJ Journals, 2011). Personal values may include issues such as whether or not mercy killing is acceptable. A nurse’s opinion on such an issue is almost always influenced by her value system rather than any legal or ethical specifications.

According to BMJ Journals (2011), medical practitioners should always consider the virtues and integrity that govern their actions. Arguably, no doctor would be comfortable or happy helping to end the life of a patient. As such, due consideration should be given to the physical, psychological, and mental implications that the act may have on practitioners who are duty and legally bound to perform the act. In most cases, the act compromises their virtues and integrity.

Despite these arguments, some people believe that euthanasia is ethically justified. In the western countries where freedom of choice is highly regarded, informed consent is assured in most cases and the patient is given the right to either consent to or decline certain treatments (Coggon, 2010). As such, medical practitioners are in such cases ethically bound to fulfill the wishes of the patient. Considering that medical practitioners must alleviate pain and suffering, it stands to reason that euthanasia can be used as a last resort in cases where medication has failed.

In addition, Coggon (2010), states that each individual has their perception regarding morality. Morality helps us in making decisions and determining what is right or wrong. Lawson the other hand is formulated to ensure that an individual’s moral decisions do not harm others. As such, the question as to whether assisted dying should be tolerated greatly depends on an individual’s understanding of morality. To some, it is morally acceptable while to others it is not. With this in mind, the law acts as a tool through which such decisions can be made without affecting other parties.

Conclusion

Death and dying are part of life. Even though they cannot be controlled or predicted, some cases and situations require intervention. While it may seem or feel wrong, assisted dying is a reality and a necessary evil in the medical profession. This paper has in detail established the relationship between the legal and ethical issues surrounding this issue in the nursing practice.

While it has been observed that the two are not always in sync, it has been established that they can be reconciled at times and if not, it will be at the nurse’s discretion to choose the desirable line of action. The different personal values that come to play have also been looked at and so have the professional ethics which bind a nurse in his/her work.

References

BMJ Journals. (2011). Assisted Dying Debate. BMJ, 342, pp. 245 –246.

Coggon, J. (2010). Assisted Dying and the Context of Debate: ‘Medical Law’ Versus ‘End-of-Life Law’. Medical Law Review, 18, pp. 541–563.

Johnstone, M. (2008). Questioning nursing ethics (ethics & legal). Australian Nursing Journal, 15, p. 19.

Nemie, J. K. (2009). Challenges for the Nursing Profession in Malaysia: Evolving Legal and Ethical Standards. Journal of Nursing Law, 13(2), pp. 54-63.