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Euthanasia

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Euthanasia

You have a pet dog that you love very much, but he’s sick. Really sick. In fact, he’s suffering on a constant basis. What do you do? Any ethical person would end the dog’s suffering by taking him to the vet and humanely ending his life. However, that same person would be forced to stand by and watch their spouse, parent, or even their child suffer unimaginable pain. The question is, why does our humanity have to go out the window when dealing with human pain and suffering? Modern government intrudes on our lives in such a constant and consistent manner that it even denies us the intensely personal choice of death when faced with a complete loss of quality of life.

The reasons behind this horrible reality are centered mostly around the fact that religious beliefs affect social policy in our country to a significant degree. The idea of separation of Church and State seems to have broken down over the years. Politicians even use their religion as a reason why people should vote for them, when it shouldn’t even be allowed to be a factor in an election. In fact, for a candidate to state that he’s for mercy killing guarantees that he’ll be attacked politically by religious right-to-life groups that suggest he’s immoral and unfeeling, when the exact opposite is probably true. However, like abortion, the debate over assisted suicide is an emotionally charged one. It is nearly impossible to discuss causing death of any kind under any circumstances without considering the moral and ethical consequences, especially as they would apply to the medical profession. Even so, to quote Bishop Spong, “I believe that we live in a country which endows its citizens with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights, newly given, is a peculiar gift of this modern world: the right to participate in the management of our own deaths…The legal right to die with dignity is an essential modern freedom from which mature human beings dare not shrink…Assisted suicide must never be a requirement, but it should always be a legal and moral option.”[1]

Even with all the bad press that euthanasia has received on occasion, the concept of government allowing mercy killing has been around for decades. The right-to-die movement has been under way since the 1970’s. In 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan suffered a respiratory arrest that resulted in a persistent vegetative state. After it became evident that she would never recover, her parents decided to take her off the ventilator; however, the hospital and medical staff refused their request. Her parents asked the courts to grant them the power to authorize the ventilator's withdrawal. Almost a year later the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the state's interest in protecting Quinlan's life was outweighed by her right of privacy, given her poor prognosis and the invasion of her body that would be necessary to keep her alive. [2]

In 1983 the Supreme Court was hit with another case similar to Quinlan’s. Cruzan was twenty-five and was on a ventilator living off of feeding tubes. Like the Quinlan’s family the Cruzan’s decided it wasn’t fair to keep their daughter alive and have her suffer. The Supreme Court told the Cruzan’s they needed “clear and convincing” evidence before she could forgo artificial nutrition and hydration given her current state before her parents could remove the feeding tube. [3]

When the right-to-die movement gained major momentum in the 1990’s was with the help of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Dr. Kevorkian first made headlines in November 1998, millions of Americans watched as the retired Michigan doctor give lethal injections to Thomas Youk. Youk, whose death was videotaped and shown on CBS program “60 Minutes,” had been suffering from terminal condition called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In March 1999 Kevorkian was tried for second degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison. Kevorkian served as his own lawyer and argued that he had a “duty” to help suffering people die and that what he did was a form of excusable homicide. [4] Kevorkian was also a great supporter of the right-to-die movement. Supports of the -right-to-die movement, which are mostly people with terminal illnesses and their families, believe that a dying person should have the right to decide how and when to end their life. They believe that terminally ill people have a right to “die with dignity” and to avoid a long and drawn out death in which they may be in horrific pain, heavily sedated or completely dependent on family members and caregivers for help them with basic bodily functions. Many people fear the suffering and helplessness of such a death and would rather get help from a doctor’s in ending their misery than to continue to live a life that no longer has meaning for them. Dr. Kevorkian spent a little over 8 years in prison. He was released for good behavior on June 1, 2007. After his release from prison, Dr. Kevorkian, also known as “Doctor Death”, promised that he will not assist another terminally ill person. Kevorkian once said that "dying is not a crime”, so for the rest of his life he will continue to try to convince states to change their laws on assisted suicide. On June 27, 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that a state's ban on suicide is rationally related to a legitimate government interest and therefore there is no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide; however, states are free to decide for themselves whether to allow physician-assisted suicide. Currently, Oregon is the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide, as voter referendums that sought to legalize it have failed in Washington (1991), California (1992), Michigan (1998), and Maine (2000). [5]

In November 1994, Oregon became the first state to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. Assisted suicide happens when a terminally ill person requests help from their doctor to end their suffering, this usually occurs when the doctor prescribes drugs that can cause an overdose. On the other hand, euthanasia is when the doctor gives lethal injections to the terminally ill. Oregon’s Death with Dignity law permits doctors to prescribe (but not administer) lethal drugs to patients who requested them and who have been pronounced by medical authorities to be of sound mind and only than six months to live.[6] Since the law was passed, over seventy Oregonians have taken advantage of ending their lives and the number keeps growing.

The Oregon Law on euthanasia is a respectable law stating that if you are terminally ill and have less than six months to live you are qualified to have lethal injections to end your suffering. However, in November 2001 things took a turn for the worst when U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that if a doctor prescribes any lethal drugs to commit suicide their medical license could be revoked. The state of Oregon challenged Ashcroft in front of a district judge hoping to eventually take it to the Supreme Court. The Court decided that Ashcroft went beyond the scope of authority in attempting to determine what makes up valid medical practice for the entire country by making practices he disfavors illegal. In the end, the court kept Oregon’s physician-assisted dying law as a legitimate law of medicine.

To date, there has been no evidence of abuse or misuse of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. Oregon’s experience has revealed a great deal about why terminally ill patients choose assisted suicide. In most cases, the patients chose assisted suicide or euthanasia because of their decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable, their loss of independence, and their loss of pride and dignity. Information and data gathered on annual reports filed by physicians shows that the Death with Dignity Law has improved end-of-life care and has helped terminally ill Oregonians.

Living Wills eliminate any question concerning the desire of the patients. A Living Will is a written document that specifies what types of medical treatment are desired, it can be very specific or very general. Most people have a Living Will to plan for their future. To start a Living Will, a lawyer should be present to help you start planning it. As you begin to plan it, you get to indicate which treatments you do or do not want applied to you in an event that you either are suffering from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated; until then, you'll be able to say what treatments you do or do not want.

The best choice would be combining living wills with a change in government policy which supports euthanasia with medically dictated guidelines. By doing this it eliminates the high cost of continued care for terminal and incapacitated patients.

The individuals who set public policy in our country continue to try and regulate every aspect of our lives, including how we choose to end it. Until the people who run our government concern themselves with human life as a whole, not just as something with a beginning, but with an end that deserves just as much attention, our pets will continue to be treated with more respect than we are.

-----------------------
[1] “Euthanasia V.I Current Controversies” 2004 In Euthanasia. Chelsea Mi. Chelsea High School Media Center Vertical Files, 2010.

[2] Right-to-Die Movement. Matt Weinberg. January 19, 2011. http://www.deathreference.com/Py-Se/Right-to-Die-Movement.html

[3] IBID

[4] “Euthanasia c.2”2003 In Euthanasia. Chelsea Mi. Chelsea High School Media Center Vertical Files, 2010

[5] Right-to-Die Movement. Matt Weinberg. January 19, 2011. http://www.deathreference.com/Py-Se/Right-to-Die-Movement.html

[6] Right-to-Die Movement. Matt Weinberg. January 19, 2011. http://www.deathreference.com/Py-Se/Right-to-Die-Movement.html

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