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Euthanasia Essay, Research Paper

Euthanasia is one of the most important public policy issues being debated today. It isassociated with moral and religious controversy, as well as family conflicts. However,people who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide need to realize that this issue alsosurrounds the idea of people escaping the pain-ridden and contorted bodies that fate hasdealt them. One of reasons this issue has stirred up so much dispute is that euthanasiatouches upon a criminal issue, in which a doctor is assisting in the death of a patient. In acase such as a doctor aids in suicide, it is the patient who has chosen euthanasia and ittheir decision to end their life (not the doctor s). Looking at the different aspects ofassisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia (such as the actual meaning), one can see howimportant it is to respect the decisions of people who are suffering, as well as discover thereason why the Catholic Church, the government, and the rest of the nation are havingsuch a hard time dealing with this issue. Today, although the distinction is not always made, most discussions of euthanasiaemphasize the difference between physician assisted suicide and the termination of lifesupport. Then there is a further distinction made between the physician assisted suicide, inwhich a doctor provides medications and instructions for the patient to commit suicide andactive euthanasia in which a doctor actually injects a lethal dose of a drug(Gervais). Theterm passive euthanasia is used when describing a patient who has been taken off lifesupport. Passive euthanasia usually takes place when a doctor finds that a terminally illpatient can no longer be helped by machines such as a respirator or feeding tube. Morally,the terminating of an individual s life, either passively, or actively, should be considered apositive action when its intention is to relieve pain and suffering (Gervais). The legalization of euthanasia faces a number of problems in the United Statestoday. The medical profession has generally been caught in the middle of the socialcontroversies that rage over euthanasia. Government and religious groups as well as themedical profession itself agree that doctors are not required to use extraordinary means (usually left to the discretion of the patients family) to prolong the life of the terminally ill.For this reason, technological advances in medical machinery have made it possible tokeep people alive for long periods of time, even when they are permanently unconsciousor suffer from brain damage(Encarta 96). However, in many cases, prolonging life in thisway may cause great suffering to the patient and the family. To solve this problem, newprofessional and legal definitions of death are being developed to fit these complex newrealities. For example, many states have accepted a definition of brain death –the pointwhen the higher centers of the brain cease to function(Gervais). At this point of thepatient s almost non-existent life, the family can decide to turn off the life-support systemand end the misery and pain of their loved ones. The act of passive euthanasia was adopted by the National Conference ofCommissioners in 1985, as the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (Veatch). Today,patients are entitled to opt for passive euthanasia; that is, to make free and informedchoices to refuse life support. The controversy over active euthanasia is likely to remainintense because of opposition from religious groups and many members of the medicalprofession (Veatch). Several religious groups around the world prohibit euthanasia. The RomanCatholic Church condemns the former (active) and permits the latter (passive) undercertain circumstances. Their Statement on Euthanasia (1991, Administrative Committee,National Conference of Catholic Bishops) explains:…we are not morally obligated to use allavailable medical procedures in every set ofcircumstances. But that tradition clearly andstrongly affirms that as a responsible stewardof life one must never directly intend to

cause one s own death, or the death of aninnocent victim, by action or omission.After conflicts and splits in the Catholic Church, the bishop s committee has come downon the side of maintaining life support(Maguire). They fear the slippery slope that will leadto more serious consequences if there is any accepted minimization of human life. Similarto the opinion of the Church, Southern Baptists and Orthodox Jews also oppose any formof mercy killing. However, there are religious affiliations that do support limited forms ofeuthanasia. The United Church of Christ, some Methodists, and Unitarians support apatient s right to self determination(Encarta 96). One might wonder what types of organizations feel positive towards euthanasia,besides the few religious groups and medical professors. One of the most well knownorganization advocating active euthanasia is the National Hemlock Society. This societywas developed by Derek Humphry in 1980, after he helped his cancer-ridden wife commitsuicide (Maguire). The organizations goals are to inform terminally ill patients of how totake their own lives and make euthanasia legal through the passage of a Death withDignity Act. At a conference held in 1986 ( Can There be Rational Suicide run by theCenter for Applied Biomedical Ethics), the Hemlock society justified active euthanasia onthe following grounds: 1)Advanced terminal illness that is causing unbearable suffering to the individual 2)Grave physical handicap, which is so restricting that the individual cannot, even after due consideration and training, tolerate such a limited existenceThen the Society offered guidelines for active euthanasia, the following are a selection : 1) The person is a mature adult 2)The person has clearly made a considerable decision. 3)The self-deliverance has not been made at the first knowledge of the life-threatening illness, and reasonable medical help has been sought. 4)The treating physician has been informed, and his or her response has been taken into account. 5)The person has made a will disposing of his or her worldly possessionsHumphry believes that euthanasia is the most important issue facing Americans today.Many people however, do not share the same ideas and have attacked him and his society.As a result, Humphry resigned as director of the organization in 1992 (Information Plus 94). Not just organizations, but individual doctors have been stepping outside thenorm, to stand up for the rights of terminally ill patients. Since 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian,a Michigan pathologist, has helped more than 801 patients kill themselves. The first case was Janet Adkins, a 54 year old woman with Alzheimer s disease, who did not wish tohave her mind destroyed. After she contacted him, and made her decision and heperformed his act of lethal injection (Sherr). Then in 1994 after his battles with the courts,he decided that a state law permitting assisted suicide would be more affective than hisone man campaign. He initiated a ballot drive for and amendment which would read, Theright of competent adults, who were incapacitated by incurable medical conditions, tovoluntary request medical assistance with respect to whether or not their lives continue,shall not be restrained or abridged. His proposal was unsuccessful, after failing to collectenough signatures. However, he is still battling in the wars over euthanasia. Kevorkian ison the right track to helping to the needs of the sick and dying, people just have to startlistening to him and his followers (Sherr). Looking back, not at the religious or moral issues, but of the needs of the patient,euthanasia should be considered acceptable if the right precautions are taken. The act ofeuthanasia ands the harm of an intractable situation. Physicians should be free to practicethis type of act if requested by their patient. Assisting a chronically suffering person to dieshould not be a breach of the principles of the Hippocratic Oath. By practicing euthanasia,the physician does good of the sick By relieving the individual of the pain of his/hercondition, euthanasia is not inflicting harm towards the human being. It is an act of love.

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