Uploaded by Ysojourner on Dec 15, 1999
In recent years, Euthanasia has become a very heated debate. It is a Greek word that means "easy death" but the controversy surrounding it is just the opposite. Whether the issue is refusing prolonged life mechanically, assisting suicide, or active euthanasia, we eventually confront our socity's fears toward death itself. Above others, our culture breeds fear and dread of aging and dying. It is not easy for most of the western world to see death as an inevitable part of life. However, the issues that surround euthanasia are not only about death, they are about ones liberty, right to privacy and control over his or her own body. So, the question remains: Who has the right?
Under current U.S. law, there are clear distinctions between the two types of euthanasia. One group of actions taken to bring about the death of a dying patient -withdrawal of life support, referred to by some as passive euthanasia- has been specifically upheld by the courts as a legal right of a patient to request and a legal act for a doctor to perform. A second group of actions taken to bring about the death of a dying patient -physician-assisted death, referred to by some as active euthanasia- is specifically prohibited by laws in most states banning "mercy killing" and is condemned by the American Medical Association. Although it is not a crime to be present when a person takes his or her life, it is a crime to take direct action intentionally designed to help facilitate death--no matter how justifiable and compassionate the circumstances may be.1 With active euthanasia, it is the doctor who administers the lethal drug dose. Since it is tantamount to homicide, the few U.S. doctors who perform it have been brought to trial but none of them have ever been convicted and imprisoned.
Modern interest in euthanasia in the United States began in 1870, when a commentator, Samuel Williams, proposed to the Birmingham Speculative Club that euthanasia be permitted "in all cases of hopeless and painful illness" to bring about "a quick and painless death." The word "painless" is important: the idea of euthanasia began gaining ground in modern times not because of new technologies for agonizingly prolonging life but because of the discovery of new drugs, such as morphine and various anesthetics for the...