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Euthanasia Has Many Different Meanings

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    When a person commits an act of euthanasia, he/she brings about the death

    of another person because he/she believes that the latter’s present existence

    is so bad that he/she would be better off dead.

    The word euthanasia originated from the Greek language: eu means

    “good” and thanatos means “death”. The meaning of euthanasia is “the

    intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person

    who dies” (Religious Tolerance). However, euthanasia has many different

    meanings, which tends to create confusion. It is important to differentiate

    between the various terms used in discussing euthanasia.

    Passive Euthanasia refers to removing some form of life

    support which allows nature to take its course. Forms of life

    support include: removing life support machines, stopping

    medical procedures and medications, stopping food and water,

    or not delivering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

    Active Euthanasia refers to causing the death of a person

    through a direct action, in response to a request from the

    Physician Assisted Suicide refers to a physician supplying

    information and/or the means of committing suicide to a person,

    so that he/she can easily end his/her own life. This may also be

    referred to as voluntary passive euthanasia.

    Involuntary Euthanasia refers to the killing of a person in

    opposition to their wishes. It is basically a form of murder

    Euthanasia has been accepted both legally and morally during the

    times of ancient societies. For example, the Romans and the Greeks both

    believed that “dying decently and rationally mattered immensely” (Hamel,

    20). The Greeks and Romans were sympathetic to active voluntary euthanasia

    provided that the acts were done for the right reasons, such as, to end the

    suffering of a terminal illness. As a result “of this moral acceptance of active

    voluntary euthanasia under certain circumstances, Greek and Roman

    physicians typically did not feel that they had to prolong human life” (Hamel,

    The Greeks and Romans believed that it was important to die a “good

    death”, which refers to a clear and calm psychological state of mind (Hamel,

    16). Therefore, “it was the physicians role to support the patient in the dying

    process and to help ensure for him or her a good death” (Hamel, 20).

    According to ancient societies, euthanasia was an approved custom.

    But, “with the rise of organized religion, euthanasia became morally

    and ethically abhorrent” (Microsoft). The religions of Christians and Jews

    both hold human life sacred and consider any form of euthanasia as an act of

    murder. “According to Jewish law, a dying man is regarded as a living

    person in all respects. Active euthanasia is considered murder” (Kohl, 6). To

    Christians, “only God had the right to give and take life, active euthanasia

    was viewed as an illicit exercise of divine prerogative” (Hamel, 20).

    According to traditional Christian beliefs documented by Thomas

    Aquinas, all forms of suicide and/or euthanasia were condemned for the

    following reasons: “1) it violates one’s natural desire to live, 2) it harms other

    people, 3) life is the gift of God and is thus only to be taken by God”

    (Religious Tolerance, 3). But despite strong religious beliefs, euthanasia

    tends to “occur in all societies, including those in which it is held immoral”

    The issue of euthanasia has been a hotly debated topic of various

    religious and political groups. The main question posed by each group is

    whether or not a person should be given the option to request assistance in

    dying. Advocates of voluntary euthanasia contend that if a person is:

    1) suffering from a terminal illness, 2)unlikely to benefit from the

    discovery of a cure for that illness, 3) suffering intolerable pain

    as a result of the illness 4) has an enduring and rational wish to

    die, and 5) unable to commit suicide without assistance, then

    there should be legal and medical provision to enable him/her

    to be allowed or assisted to die (Overberg).

    Ultimately, euthanasia is a question of choice, empowering people to have

    control over their own bodies. But, the choice is only to be given to an elite

    group of terminally ill, dying patients.

    Another growing debate is the legalization of active voluntary

    euthanasia and assisted suicide. Organizations supporting the legalization of

    voluntary euthanasia were established in Britain in 1935 and the Unites States

    in 1938. They have gained some support, but so far neither nation has

    achieved its goal. In the last few decades, Western laws against passive and

    voluntary euthanasia have slowly been eased, although serious moral and

    legal questions still remain (Overberg, 117 – 119).

    Legislators are manly concerned with what is called the “slippery

    slope” issue. “Slippery slope” is a term used to describe what may happen to

    society as a result of allowing something to happen. When applied to

    euthanasia, it means that if legislators legally allow physicians to end the

    lives of terminally ill, dying patients at their own requests, it most likely will

    not stop there (Hamel, 35). People who become diagnosed with terminal

    diseases will also want to end their own life, even though they have much

    more of a life to live. Basically, legislators are afraid that if the practice of

    euthanasia was made legal, it may result in an epidemic of mass suicide.

    The medical profession has generally been caught in the middle of

    controversies over euthanasia. Government and religious groups as well as

    members of the medical field all agree that doctors are not necessarily

    required to use extraordinary means to prolong the life of the terminal ill and

    dying. However, this is ultimately left up to the family of the patient. So, as a

    result of lack of money and/or outrageous medical procedures needed, the

    Modern technological advances, such as respirators and kidney

    machines have made it possible to sustain a patient’s life for long periods of

    time even when they are permanently unconscious and/or suffering form

    severe brain damage. Proponents of euthanasia agree that prolonging life in

    this manner may cause great suffering to the patient and his/her family. a

    result, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in

    1985 completed the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. This act entitles

    patients the choice to refuse life support (Baird, 167-171). It is a subtle form of

    The pro euthanasia, or “right to die”, movement has received

    considerable encouragement by the passage of laws in 47 states that allow

    legally competent individuals to make living wills. These living wills

    empower and instruct doctors to withhold life support systems if he/she

    becomes terminally ill. This is another form of subtle, but legal euthanasia. It

    is just not referred to be its’ formal term (Baird, 142-145).

    In 1994 voters in the state of Oregon passed an initiative allowing

    physicians, at the request of a competent, terminally ill patient, to prescribe

    medication for the purpose of ending the patient’s life. Opponents of such

    euthanasia challenged the law in court and lobbied the Oregon legislature to

    repeal it. Instead, the legislature placed the law on the ballot again and in

    1997 voters reapproved the measure (Physician Assisted Suicide, 1,9).

    In the 1997 case of Washington v. Glucksberg, the Supreme Court of

    the United States ruled that the state of Washington’s law prohibiting assisted

    suicide was unconstitutional. The Court’s ruling essentially allows each state

    to determine whether or not to prohibit or permit assisted suicide (Physician

    A woman by the name of Sue Rodrigues was a terminally ill resident of

    British Columbia. She suffered from the disease referred to as ALS. She was

    helped by a physician to commit suicide in violation of Canadian law. Her

    plea to the physician was, “Whose life is it, anyway?” (Religious

    Physicians should not be prohibited by law from lending their

    professional assistance to those competent, terminally ill persons for whom

    no cure is possible and who wish for an easy death. It is a crime in itself to

    allow a person to endure such intolerable pain for extended periods of time. I

    believe that if it were legal, many physicians would extend their assistance to

    those ill patients that deserved to die in peace.

    Works Cited

    Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Christian Moral Perspectives.
    Washington, DC: Morehouse Publishing, 1997.

    Baird, Robert, and Stuart Rosenbaum. Euthanasia: The Moral Issues.
    Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1989.

    Hamel, Ron. Choosing Death. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International,

    Kohl, Marvin. Beneficent Euthanasia. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus
    Books, 1975.

    Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 1999.

    Overberg, Kenneth. Mercy or Murder? Euthanasia, Morality, and
    Public Opinion.

    Kansas City, Missouri: Sheed and Ward, 1993.

    Physician Assisted Suicide.


    Religious Tolerance: Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide Home



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