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Artificial Life or Death
Euthanasia has been a hotly debated about topic for the past couple of
decades, but has recently been thrust into the limelight by many controversial
court and hospital decisions.
Euthanasia is defined as the “mercy killing” of a person who is brain
dead, terminally ill or otherwise at death’s door. This usually, but not
necessarily, affects people who are are separated from death only by machines.
Whether you personally believe “mercy killing” is a viable solution in a
hopeless situation or not the proponents for both sides provide arguments that
can be quite convincing. Supporters of euthanasia say that it is such an
improbability for a miraculous recovery and a return to a normal life that it is
not worth putting the patient through all the suffering and agony that
prolonging their life would cause or the fortune of hospital bills that you
would pay. The opposition feels that it is not right for people to abandon other
members of the human race because there is always a chance, even though it is a
small one, that they will regain all functons and return to a normal life.
There are many cases in which euthanasia is acceptable. Brain death is
one situation which merits euthanasia. It is also one of the more common cases
where euthanasia is requested. Brain death is when all brain activities cease.
The lines are fairly well drawn in the law about patients who are
suffering but are still compotent, but when the law is asked to determine the
fate of a lingering, comatose, incompotent patient the lines begin to blur. In
many cases the courts turned to the patient’s family, but what if there are not
any or they disagree? In such cases who decides? In a controversial decision a
Massachusetts court allowed that it would invoke its own “substitute judgement”
on behalf of a mentally ill woman. In a second case mentioned in the January 7
issue of Newsweek, a Minnesota Surpreme court turned to three hospital ethics
committees to review a dying loner’s case, followed their collected wisdom and
ordered him off the respirator so that he could have a dignified death. “It is
the first time ethics committees played a significant role in the court” says Dr.
Ronald E. Cranford. Still the easiest way to know and respect the patient’s
wishes is through a simple piece of paper called a living will. (18)
It was stated, in the Bible, by the same preacher in Ecclesiastes who
said there is a time to be born and a time to die also said there is “A time to
search and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3:6)
We need the honesty to admit death and the courage to discontinue life
extending measures, because of the extreme amount of funds that go into
supporting a brain dead, comatose, or terminally ill patient for any amount of
time. Although brain dead and comatose patients do not feel pain terminally ill
patients do, so is it not better to stop the pain that prolonging life would
It also seems to me that the brain dead patient lying in the hospital
bed coupled to machines is unlike the person that you knew and loved. In U.S.A.
Today a situation was written about that promotes this way of thinking, it says
“Typical is the inert body of an eighty two year old woman, victim of a massive
coronary, lying day after day hooked up to tubes and wires with no prospect of
returning to consciousness, much less to last week’s vitality which her daughter
remembers as she says, ‘That is not my mother lying there’.” (34)
Many think that “We should be very careful in terms of our technological
miricals that we do not impose life on people who, in fact, are suffering beyond
our ability to help.”
In Christianity Today January, 1990 there is a statement that I think is
the epitome of all that advocates of euthanasia say and believe, “In todays
society, where technological advances have given us the power to prolong the
quantity of life long beyond what many believe is life with any dignity or
degree of quality, pulling the plug or removing the tube should not be
considered a sin of commission, murder, or suicide ; but a humble
acknowledgement of our finitude.” (6)
Should we ever give up on our friends and family, isn’t there always a
chance of normal life? “After an accident that seems to wipe out all or most of
its victim’s vital functions, it is often impossible to read the future. The
person might someday surprise us, wake up, and walk.” (Christianity Today Jan
Is it not better to attempt to keep them alive and they still die a
natural death than to not try and give up all hope on our loved ones? The
Cruzan case is one example where a comatose girl named Nancy needed a loving,
praying, and caring family. She did not need a family that would just give up on
her and let her slip into the eternal sleep of death.
Is it fair that people that barely new the patient are the ones to
choose the patient’s fate. Like the time a Minnesota Surpreme Court turned to
ethic committees, followed what they said and killed a dying man. (Newsweek Jan.
7,1985 p.18) I do not see how people who never even met the patient before he
was condemned to die are knowlegeable of the patient’s wishes or realy even what
the family desires. (18)
The Holbrook case is one example where a man was miraculously revived
after being in a coma for eight years after he was hit on the head with a piece
of firewood. Effie Holbrook said that she never gave up hope on her son. Her
prayers were answered February 25, 1991 When Conly Holbrook, called her name.
Holbrook then told his mother the names of the two people he said hit him. After
the assault, he was in a coma for three months before they had to remove part of
his skull to relieve pressure on his brain. He had been in a comatose state ever
Living Wills are growing in popularity since the numbers of “mercy
killings” have grown. A living will is a declaration of the desire for a natural
death. It is a means of retaining control over what happens at the end of your
life, even when you are no longer able to express your wishes.
To many people, the fear of a lingering death is worse than the fear of
dying, and a Living Will permits you to make certain choices when there is not
doubt that you are compotent. North Carolina and many other states have adopted
Living Will laws. North Carolina has recognized them since 1977. G.S. 90-321
provides that if an idividual has declared in the proper manner a desire that
his or her life not be prolonged by extraodinary means, and if attending
physician determines the individual’s condition is terminal and incurable and is
confirmed by another physician, then extraodinary means may legally be withheld
When you sign a Living Will the decision does not have to be a permanent
one. You may revoke a Living Will at any time by destruction of original and
all copies or by communication of your intention to evoke the will.
The line between whether euthanasia is acceptable or not is quite fine
and we all need to be careful when it comes to the point of euthansia. You must
have your priorities straight before you make a final decision on your, or
someone elses, fate. Would you want to be killed? Would you want your wife
killed after a car wreck or would you rather allow her or you to go on living by
life support? Euthanasia is so touchy that most people would never, and should
never want, to have to make this decision between life and death.
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