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Euthanasia is "the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment"(Hauser et al 577). Euthanasia has been an issue since 400 B.C. where Hippocrates, "the Father of medicine" stated in the Hippocratic Oath that "He will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel". He was the first opponent of euthanasia. However, the Greeks and Romans allowed the practice of voluntary euthanasia when someone wanted to end their life. In the other hand, the German Nazis with the used of gas chambers, practice the non-voluntary euthanasia to get rid of Jews, gypsies and Russians. In this century, euthanasia has become an issue that many "proponents believe that the right to life should not depend on the status of a person's health or ability but opponents argue that euthanasia cannot be a self-determination, because it requires other people to help them kill themselves" (Update: Assisted Suicide).There are two types of euthanasia: active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. The arguments for or against euthanasia are based on moral or religious beliefs that are impossible to resolve.
The first type of euthanasia is called the active voluntary euthanasia (VAE). This occurs when the patients ask the doctor to give pills, disconnect their life support equipment or a lethal injection so that they can die with dignity and no pain. Some doctors refuse to please the patient's request of dying. Therefore, they have to consult the hospital ethics committee, to be able to give a respond to their patients that most of the time is to wait to see if they can save their life. Many people agree with the practice of active euthanasia, because they said that "the quality of a person's life deteriorates to the point that it is no longer worth living. Many people fear that in the period leading up to their death, they will suffer from untreatable pain." (Euthanasia).In the case of Mrs. Lillian Boyes, a women who suffer for progressively worst arthritis for ten years was in so much suffer that she begged Dr. Nigel Cox to put an end of her misery. He gave her a lethal injection of potassium chloride and she died instantly with no suffer. After that he was found guilty for attempted murder.
Opponents of voluntary euthanasia argue that the doctors are suppose to treat the patients in order to live more not to die, or at least trying to ensure the patients that he or she will live as long as possible. James Rachel's, a philosophy professor, says that, " In active euthanasia, the doctors do something to bring about the patient's death: he kills him" (Euthanasia). Most of them say that "patients opt for voluntary euthanasia under the pressure of families motivated by a desire to save money" (Goldberg 350). The Catholic Church also takes part of this argue when Pope John Paul II said "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy their life" (Wallace et al 59).
A national study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 1998 found that "about 11% of doctors surveyed had been asked to give someone a lethal injection. Nearly 5% said they had given at least one fatal injection". It's not a surprise that some doctors are choosing to help people to die when they find themselves in a difficult and painful situation where their patients are asking them to end their life.
The second type is, passive voluntary euthanasia, is bringing about the death of a dying person who has not specifically asked for help in dying. This happens when a "terminally ill patients or patients in a persistent vegetative state family chooses to the withdrawal or refusal of life support" (Euthanasia). Those patients that are in a comma will never become conscious again they would remain like that until they die. However, in the United States "brain death when the ailing patients are kept alive only by means of life-support machines, such as respirators to aid in breathing" (Euthanasia). The family may choose to have the patient taken off of life support if they wish, and if the doctors agree, it will be done. Doctor Edmund of the University of Tennessee said that "Some families of terminally ill patients began to question the value of keeping their otherwise incapacitated loved ones alive by artificial means."(Wallace et al 20).
However, people against passive euthanasia argue that these days modern medicine has allowed seriously ill patients to stay alive for long periods and there is no need to disconnect or let the patients die. Including the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force (IAETF), say that "there are too many uncertainties involved in determining when euthanasia can be used ethically and appropriately. Doctors do not always know for sure how much longer a patient has to live" (Reiner 112). That's why many people argue that passive euthanasia is accepting that life is worthless and it's becoming more common these days.
In European countries like "the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium the practice of euthanasia has been legalized not only to terminal ill patients, but also to newborn babies who are terminally ill or are suffering from extreme pain. In contrast with other European countries like German and Britain if euthanasia is performed the punishment can be by up to 14 years in prison" (Euthanasia).
The debate has increased all around the world and the United States is not the exception. In November 1994, Oregon is the only state that allowed assisted suicide. "Oregon voters approve the Death with Dignity Act, which would allow physicians to help patients commit suicide in certain circumstances. In December, a federal judge issues a temporary restraining order against the law. The judge's action is the first in a series of attempts to keep the law from being enacted. In October 1997, the Supreme Court refuses to take up an appeal involving Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, clearing the way for the law to go into effect. The next month, Oregon voters once again support the act in a statewide referendum" (Euthanasia Key Events).
Opponents in the United States acknowledge that there are cases in which assisted suicide is probably the most compassionate solution for a suffering person. However, Daniel Callahan, the president of the Hastings Center, a research group concerned with medical ethics says, "Those are the exception and cannot be made the rule." Callahan and other opponents maintain that assisted suicide must not become an acceptable medical option. While it may occur quietly, they say, such incidents must remain departures from the norm. They believe that "toleration, not legalization" is the wisest policy (Religion in Politics).
However, in 1976, for example, "The New Jersey Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in the case of a young comatose woman named Karen Ann Quinlan. The court allowed Quinlan's parents to have the respirator keeping her alive disconnected; her doctors had opposed removing the respirator. In November of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the New Jersey decision (Euthanasia). But on March 31, 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court rule in favor to Joe Quinlan as the guardian of their daughter Karen with the right to decided in her medical treatment, including the right to disconnect all treatment means of life support. Karen's parents said that "they were concerned that she would not want to be kept alive by machines." Karen Ann was removed from the machine that had pumped air into her lungs for over one year. But Karen kept breathing on her own for another nine years before dying on June 11, 1985 of pneumonia (Karen Ann Quindle Memorial Foundation).
Proponents like Stephen Reinhardt argued that, "A competent, terminally ill adult, having lived nearly the full measure of his life, has a strong liberty interest in choosing a dignified and humane death"(Griffith et al 357).Reinhardt also said that "In 1990 a Supreme Court case, Cruzan v. Missouri, in which the court upheld an individual's constitutional right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. That decision, he said, helped show that there was a constitutionally recognized right to die" (Griffith et al 358).
The arguments for or against euthanasia are gaining power in society. Whether, some people argue that legalizing euthanasia would help relieve the suffering of terminally ill patients. It would be inhuman and unfair to make them support the inevitable pain. Others oppose saying that euthanasia is morally incorrect and should be forbidden by law. It's a homicide and murdering another human cannot be practice under any circumstances. There are many reasons why euthanasia should be legal or illegal but the debate these days is, who has the right to decide whether it should be legalized or not? There are many cases around the world that involved the practice of active and passive euthanasia even when in most of the countries is prohibited.
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