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Essay title: Euthanasia

Modern technological advances such as respirators, artificial kidney machines, and feeding tubes have made it possible to keep persons alive for long periods of time even when they are permanently unconscious or irrevocably brain damaged. There are many choices that should be taken into consideration when deciding whether euthanasia is in the best interest of the suffering patient.

Before deciding on euthanasia, first they must consider the different types. Voluntary euthanasia refers to the act of inducing a merciful death in accord with the wishes and desires of the person.

Involuntary euthanasia would be the bringing on of the death of a suffering person without the person's permission. Such actions may be labeled murder or homicide and when they become known, the perpetrator is arrested and tried in a court of law. When the act of euthanasia is performed at the request of the dying person, it is labeled active voluntary euthanasia. If it is performed without the request of the victim, the act is considered active involuntary euthanasia, the providing of a good death without the clear acquiescence of the victim.

Passive euthanasia refers to what has been called "letting the patient die" or pulling the plug". (Larue, page 36) Life support systems are removed from a terminally ill patient and the patient dies as a consequence of the removal. Passive euthanasia can be accomplished by withholding food and water. Where the life support machinery is removed at the request of the patient, the act is known as voluntary passive euthanasia. When the life support equipment is removed without a statement from a patient the act is called involuntary passive euthanasia. This is against the law.

Many argue that an ethical distinction between the act of passive euthanasia and active euthanasia exist. The crux of their argument usually rests on an irrelevant distinction between artificial and biological means of sustaining life. Passive and active euthanasia are both acts of mercy killing. If it is considered morally acceptable to withdraw treatment to end a life, then it should be equally acceptable to administer a lethal drug to a dying person who is found to be in a hopeless and painful situation.

In hospitals, patients who would normally exhibit all signs of death do not die because they are kept alive by respirators and heart-lung equipment. These machines can sustain vital signs even after true death has occurred. By removing tubes, the doctors do not intentionally kill the patient, they simply "let them die" or "let nature take its course". (Larue, page 17). Neither the law nor medical ethics requires that everything be done to keep a person alive. Against the patient's wishes, that death be postponed by every means available, is contrary to law and practice.

Two points appear repeatedly in the discussion of euthanasia and religion: sanctity of life and quality of life. Sanctity of life refers to the preciousness or sacredness of life, and implies absolute inviolability of human life. Many in the medical profession who follow sanctity of life do not practice euthanasia. For some, the idea of sanctity of life is reinforced by the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". ("Euthanasia is Unethical"). What is more important is the appeal to the Bible as the authority for decision-making regarding suicide or euthanasia, nowhere in the Bible is suicide or assisted suicide condemned. God is the giver of life and therefore automatically the determiner of the time of death.

Beyond the issues of quality and sanctity, the public and perhaps the family may be troubled by other issues such as financial costs and the energy and the time demanded of hospital personnel in treating such cases. The agony endured by those who love and care for the patient can be heart breaking as they sit and wait for nature to take its course.

In the case of the cognitively-aware patient in intractable pain partially controlled by drugs that affect the patient's ability to function mentally and socially, the suffering of both patient and family can be devastating. There are those who care too much and will agree to end a stricken life because they themselves cannot cope with seeing their loved one in such a distressing state. It also opens the way for relatives to face pressure from doctors or health authorities to allow a patients life to be ended. There are already many instances where hospitals decide that the quality of a patient's life is so poor that they decide to starve or dehydrate them to death.

There are some candidates for euthanasia. Some examples are thousands of old men and women crippled both in mind and body. Also, people in comas who are paralyzed and begging to die and others who are terminally ill and in pain. Society should not consider euthanasia for people whose minds are still alert.

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