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Euthanasia, mercy killing, assisted suicide, and help to die. These are all ways to say the same thing. Euthanasia can be defined as either ending the life of an individual that has a terminal illness or physical handicap or the withholding of medical treatment, that results in death, from an individual that has a terminal illness or a physical handicap.
The debate over euthanasia has only recently has been brought to the forefront of the American public. Euthanasia is a controversial topic that can and probably will affect all people on earth, alive and dead. Although euthanasia is often considered to be a form of murder, it requires a certain degree of understanding and compassion and can be very comforting.
In the middle of the debate over euthanasia is the small European country of the Netherlands. In an article for Europe, Roel Janssen stated, ?According to a 1998 university study, 92% of the Dutch population support euthanasia? (41). Starting back in the mid seventies, lawyers in Holland fought for the rights of doctors, relatives, and patients of either terminally ill or euthanized patients.
Over the years they inched their way up to the point where the practice was generally accepted. In 1993 the Supreme Court formalized euthanasia as a medical practice, but kept mercy killing in the realm of penal law. This means that under certain strict conditions, a doctor will not be prosecuted for killing somebody with a terminal disease, but a regular person would be. Ellen Goodman, in the Des Moines Register said, ?In Holland, some 2.4 percent of the deaths are assisted by doctors? (9).
In the summer of 1999, the Dutch government passed a law that formalizes the already-widespread practice of euthanasia. A recent column in Maclean?s magazine reported that ?The bill, expected to receive parliamentary approval . . . would be the only such law in the world . . . ? (?World Notes? 21). The Dutch law allows doctors to assist the suicide of terminally ill people if they make a knowledgeable request. Maclean?s adds, ?Under the proposal, children as young as 12 could demand and receive euthanasia? (?World Notes? 21). Mike Corder wrote in the Des Moines Register ?The plans were given a guarded welcome by the Netherlands Association for Voluntary Euthanasia . . . ? (4). Corder adds ?The new law also recognizes so-called ?euthanasia declarations,? documents in which patients state they want euthanasia even if they are no longer in a position to ask for it themselves – for example, if they are in a coma? (4). Janssen continued ?It is thought that about two hundred thousand people (out of a population of sixteen million) carry a piece of paper declaring their wish to be helped to die in case there are no more prospects for a normal healthy life? (41-42).
In the United States the most recognized man connected to physician-assisted suicide is Jack Kevorkian. Kevorkian has helped over one hundred thirty people commit suicide. Goodman commented, on Kevorkian, ?I don?t trust his judgment or his free-lance assessment of the 130 patients whose deaths he assisted? (9). Kevorkian was arrested for first degree murder after injecting Thomas Youk with a lethal drug. Youk suffered from ALS or Lou Gerig?s disease. Kevorkian taped the incident and it aired on ?60 Minutes.? After the airing of the tape Michigan prosecutors filed first degree murder charges against Kevorkian. He would be tried for the fifth time.
Goodman mentioned that during the murder trial the wife of Youk commented that the word kill was never uttered (9). Kevorkian said ?Either they go or I go . . . this issue has to be raised to the level where it?s finally decided? (Goodman 9). At the end of the trial Kevorkian was found guilty of second-degree murder. This was the first time in five trials that he was convicted, but also the first time Kevorkian administered the drug, not the patient. Goodman added ? . . . he crossed no, leapt over the line from passive to active euthanasia, from assisted suicide to what some call mercy killing and others call murder? (9).
Brad Knickerbocker wrote, in an article for the Christian Science Monitor, ?In Congress, opponents have advanced a bill that, in effect, would do away with Oregon?s first-in-the-nation law allowing physician-assisted suicide? (1).Robert Kilborn, Lance Carden, and Ross Atkin wrote in an article for the Christian Science Monitor
The house overwhelmingly approved legislation to prohibit federally controlled drugs for assisted suicide, setting the stage for the Senate to debate whether doctors may prescribe drugs that help patients diagnosed as terminally ill end their lives (24).
Some would say that the federal government is trying to stop the people of the United States from receiving euthanasia. Knickerbocker continued ?Mr. Clinton . . . in signing a bill that forbids the use of federal funds for doctor assisted suicide . . . ? (1). This means that the government is not willing to spend any money on euthanasia although ? . . . wide margins in public surveys – sometimes more than seventy percent – they voice approval for physician aid in hastening death? (1). President Clinton had to comment ?to endorse assisted suicide would set us on a disturbing and perhaps dangerous path? (Knickerbocker 1).
It seems that the government for the people and by the people is not going to listen to the people. This government hides behind a cover of protecting the people. Senator Don Nickles (R) of Oklahoma stated, ?a state law authorizing or permitting assisted suicide or euthanasia does not change the federal governments responsibility to prevent misuse of federally controlled, potentially dangerous drugs? (Knickerbocker 1). Knickerbocker continues ?At the same time, the bill encourages doctors to use opiates and other drugs to treat patients? suffering, even if the use of such substance may increase the risk of death? (1).
?However deeply you look into them, the ?eyes of the law? are too narrow for justice? (Goodman 9). In Oregon a law has been passed that allows residents to ask for assisted-sucide and recieve it if they are believed to have less than six months to live (Kilborn 24). This is the first law in the United States that makes it legal to be helped to die. Kilborn, Carden, and Atkin add ?All 15 suicide-aided Oregonians in 1998 used controlled substances? (24).
There is another debate amidst the euthanasia debate. Whether state or federal control would be better for euthanasia. Knickerbocker stated ?Alaska Superior Court Judge Eric Sanders recently ruled that ?Alaskans do not have an undeniable right to physician-assisted suicide?? (1). Knickerbocker continues ? . . . in every state but Oregon, ballot measures allowing such procedures have been turned down? (1).
Goodman stated ?but there is a problem with the eyesight of the law. It doesn?t allow for nearly as much peripherial vision as our human eyes do? (9). Knickerbocker continues ?two years ago, the U.S. Supreme court found no consttutional ?right to die?? (1). The Netherland allows people to request and recieve euthanasia legally. In the United States the only place you can recieve euthanasia is in Oregon. Knickerbocker adds ?Last year, the American Medical Association and the National Hospice Organization argued against proposed stricter bans on the grounds that doctors would be reluctant to prescribe medicine for pain treatment? (1). These organizations were fighting for the rights of patients to get a good quality of care and pain relief.
In 1997 a law allowing euthanasia was overturned in Ausralia. The Hutchinson Dictionary stated ?Ben Dent, from Darwin, became the first man to end his life by legally sanctioned euthanasia in September 1996? (n. pag.).Austrsalia has made no new laws allowing euthanasia. Goodman states ?The law does not look at the victim and say ?Does the victim have a quality of life that?s worth protecting??? (9).
In years past, the concern has been that drugs such as morphine could cause addiction or, if over-prescribed, death. This led some physicians to err on the side of prescribing small amounts, eventhough that might not provide sufficient relief (1).
Knickerbocker continues ?With changes allowing for increased ?risk of death? in such cases, the groups [AMA and NHO] now give their support. The important change, according to group officials, relates to intent? (1).
Benjamin Freedman wrote
In these question the value of sanctity of life, that every life must be preserved at all costs, is frequently at odds with the value of the quality of life, according to which an individual has a right to a humane and dignified death (n. pag.)
Euthanasia is primarily used by people with terminal illnesses. Doctor typically inject the patient with a lethal dose of a controlled substance. The death is quick and painless. Corder, reporting on the Netherlands, said ?physicians also must report each case to the coroner and to one of the five regional panels, made up of a lawyer, a doctor and an ethics expert? (4). Doctors play a huge role in the euthanasia process.
People generally use euthanasia to relieve pain and suffering. Someone who has been suffering with terminal cancer for years or maybe only months can get tired of all the pain and just want to die. Another reason people may ask for euthanasia is because of a handicap that they do not want to live with. They may not want to endure a life of dependence or just not want to live.
According to the information presented in this paper one must conclude that euthanasia may be helpful in some people?s lives. Freedman stated ? . . . their opponents argue that concern for relief of suffering and a dignified death will help promote a society more sensitive to human life? (n. pag.). One is led to believe that our society would be more sensitive and thus a larger peace would come over society. Not only the peace in one persons life but the peace over everybody because of more acceptance.
Goodman adds ?What if we had guidelines instead of hardlines?? (9). Gayla Bissell agreed in a personal interview ?I think that we should have a set of rules for euthanasia.? A set of guidelines wuold be the best solution to the euthanasia debate. Goodman continued ?And in the eyes of the law you cannot consent to your own murder? (9). Maybe one should be able to consent to their own death.
Bissell, Gayla. Personal Interview 14 December 1999.
Corder, Mike. ?Dutch Move to Legalize Mercy Killing.? The Des Moines Register 11 August 1999: 4. 9 November 1999. Online. UMI Proquest.
?Euthanasia.? The Hutchinson Dictionary of Science 4 November 1999. Online. Electric Library.
Freedman, Benjamin. ?Medical Ethics.? The 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia 6 September 1997: n. pag. 4 November 1999. Online. Electric Library.
Goodman, Ellen. ?Kevorkian: Murderer or Martyr? Irascible Kevorkian Forced Us intyo a Theatre of Legal Absurdity.? Des Moines Register 31 March 1999: 9. 9 November 1999. Online. UMI Proquest.
Janssen, Roel. ?Government Supports Euthanasia Law.? Europe October 1999: 41-42. 16 November 1999. Online. EBSCOhost.
Kilborn, Robert, Lance Carden, and Ross Atkin. ?USA.? Christian Science Monitor 29 October 1999: 24. 16 November 1999. Online. EBSCOhost.
Knickerbocker, Brad. ?Doctor-aided Suicide: Shifting Politics.? Christian Science Monitor 28 September 1999: 1. 16 November 1999. Online. EBSCOhost.
?World Notes.? Maclean?s 23 August 1999: 21. 9 November 1999. Online. UMI Proquest
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