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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

1990 p.6)

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

or discontinued.

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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