Euthanasia, is one of the most controversial issues of
our time. This diver se issue raises many questions such as:
how should decisions be made, and by whom? What should be
determined as a matter of law and what left a matter of
discretion and judgment? Should those who want to die, or
who are in a “persistent vegetative state” be allowed to die
voluntarily? Who should decide: the patient, the physician,
the courts, or the families? The pro-euthanasia arguments turn
on the individual case of the patient in pain, suffering at the
center of an intolerable existence. When life becomes nbearable,
quick death can be the answer. If living persons become so ill
that they cannot tolerate the pain they have a “right to die”
to an escape from torment. So long as the right to die means
not prolonging the life by undesireable treatment, it may be
classified as rational suicide.

The term “euthanasia” means “good health” or “well dying”;
it is derived from the Greek “eu” and “thanatos”. In its
classical sense, it is a descriptive term referring to an easy
death as opposed to an agonizing or tormented dying. In
Greek literature, euthanasia connoted a “happy death, an
ideal and coveted end to a full and pleasant life.” The
concern to die well is as old as humanity itself, for the
questions surrounding death belong to the essence of being

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All people die, but apparently only people know they are to
die. They live with the truth that life is under the
sentence of death. Thus, from the “beginning of the species
concern with how one dies has been an implicit part of the
human attempt to come to terms with death.” (Paul D. Simmons,
112) There is still a question involved in the contemporary
debates about euthanasia which is posed by a case such as the
terminally ill who are dying. The issue concerns the morality of
mercy in aiding the dying patient. The question goes beyond
simply withdrawing treatments. The issue is whether, in the
name of mercy, one might morally aid someone’s dying? “Are
circumstances under which it is morally responsible to terminate
a person, or does lovealways require resisting death through
every means possible?” (Wickett, 109) Paul D. Simmons declares
bluntly that “it is harder morally to justify letting somebody
die a slow and ugly death, dehumanized, than it is to justify
helping him to escape from such misery. (Samuel Gorovitz, 113)
Some very prominent people are making packs with friends
or relatives that specify that either will help the other die
when life becomes desperate from pain or tragic accident.

Families and physicians feel a variety of powerful emotions
when dealing with a patient dying a slow and agonizing death.

Certainly they wish that the pain were relieved and that
health restored; that the patient not die but go on living and
sharing concerns and joys together. “When the illness is
terminal and there is no hope of relief or recovery, however,
death is often desired for the patient as God’s appointed
way to relieve suffering.” (Paul D. Simmons, 116) Mr. Sorestad,
my junior high teacher, shared his experience at the death of his
beloved wife after her prolonged battle with breast cancer. She
had deteriorated physically and mentally practically beyond
recognition. “I prayed for death,” he had said, “because I loved
her so much and could not bear to see her suffer so. And when
death finally came, I thanked God for his good gift.” She’d had
enough, made her choice, and her choice was honored. But suppose
that Mrs. Sorestad had asked her husband to help her die! He
felt already that death was imminent and desirable. As a true
Christian, he felt that death would be a merciful relief of pain
and suffering. He was morally justified to act out his love for
his wife by ending her suffering life in a painless manner. “The
meaning of death, the morality of taking or ending life of one’s
own spouse or the “relationship of the person to the processes of
nature and the activity of God in one’s life.” (Ann Wickett, 109)
This issue raised concerns to doctors. Even the best doctors,
given all the pressures that they must bear, could
“benefit from more structured ways of remaining informed
about how their efforts are viewed by their patients.”
(Samuel Gorovitz, 10) Importantly, it also heightened
my curiosity about what it is like to be a physician c about what
sorts of problems and pressures sustain their distance and
separateness, and make it so hard for them to be open to new
ideas from outside their profession. Most doctors found
themselves spending more time than ever before dealing with
decisions they were never trained to make decisions at the edge
of life. Where the question “is what can be done for the
patient.” (Thomas W. Case, 25 & 26). He is uncomfortable when
the issue turns from how to sustain a patient’s life to such
questions as whether to stop providing nourishment, thereby,
to end a patient’s life. It is strongly believed that physicians
can play a positive role in the active euthanasia of mentally
competent, terminally ill people who request assistance in ending
their own lives. It is crucial that physicians who choose to
help dying patients in this way should be “free to do so without
the fear of criminal prosecution”. (Ann Wickett, 87). There are
those who will say that active euthanasia is not part of the
physician’s role and never has been. Historical evidence,
however, indicates that it was “common practice for Grecian and
Roman physicians to assist in suicide”. (Thomas W. Case, 50).

Physicians are not alone in having a high rate of stress
impairment; other high stress occupations also have such
problems. The choices and challenges faced by today’s doctors,
and the “reality of their complex relationships with patients,
peers, and social situations have left the hippocratic oath
behind.” (Paul D. Simmons, 108). Doctors are no doubt eager
toexplain about the stresses they must bear in the face of
difficult decisions. They have their responsibilities, but
should they support the patient’s position, or should they
stay out of it? Should they side with the family? These are
very hard questions for them to face. They could avoid those
decisions if they could, but there are too many pressures to
allow them that comfortable escape. They come from many
directions. “The most compelling pressure is the concern for
the interests of patients; they realize that some patients
may be harmed rather than helped by life sustaining treatment.”
(Paul D. Simmons, 201).

Some cases have yielded mixed results in state courts, and
the Supreme Court, that restricts the rights of family members to
direct the withdrawal of such treatment in the absence of written
evidence of the patient’s wishes that is clear and compelling.

There is a legitimate public interest in preventing such
outcomes no matter what the patient would have wanted.The
decision to forgo lifesustaining treatment must surely be as
hard as any that arises in a hospital or within a family.

Principles to guide such a decision are elusive, because
whenever the question arises, some of our most cherished values
are in conflict. People believe in the value of life but it is
not clear that all life has value no matter what. People believe
that suffering should be reduced, but sometimes that means
shortening life.People also believe that patients’ wishes
should be respected, but that seems not always best for the
patients. It is expected of doctors to be a strong champions of
life, but people fear their capacity to impose continue life.

Cardinal John J. O’Connor, writhing in Catholic New York (July
20, 1989), explained why he refrained from supporting the
euthanasia bill, affirming that any concern for therelief of
human suffering should be tempered by a respect for what he
calls the “tremendous potential of suffering”: frightening number
of people are being condemned to death by the courts, at the
request of loved one or “proxies,” or by their own personal
requests. The reason: They are suffering ‘needlessly’; their
lives are ‘useless’; they are terminally ill, or comatose, or
have nothing to live for.’ Of course, there are many things that
doctors do know best, and how to prolong the life of a seriously
ill patient is among them. There is also a deep and geniune
commitment among physicians the occasional medical rogue aside c
to serving the interests of their patients. That commitment can
lead to zealousness in defense of life, a zealousness that can
distort the physician’s judgment about just what is in the
patient’s interest. And, increasingly, there is the fear
of legal jeopardy. It is the physicians’ role to educate the
patient by discussing both the state well being and the
indicated treatments. The risks and benefits of each treatment
option must be thoroughly discussed.It is the patient’s role
to evaluate this information in light of his or her present
level of physical and social, spiritual, and psychololgical

It is hard to say that the family has the right to demand
that the doctor pull the plug just because they thought the
patient “would never want to live like this”. Despite their
confused state, the family urges the physician to withhold the
tube, thereby hastening death. The issue, quality of life, is
perceived by the family: No one has the right to judge that
another’s life is not worth living. The basic right to life
should not be abridged because someone decides that someone
else’s ‘quality of life’ is too low. Once we base the right to
life on ‘quality of life’ standards, there is no logical place to
draw the line.

Dying is not something any of us really look forward to,
but it is a natural process that we can use to come to terms
with ourselves. It is indeed our last chance to become our
best selves. Few of us like pain and suffering, and only
those of us who are “profoundly religious can find meaning in
them”. (Thomas W. Case, 28-29). We ameliorate human suffering
when cure is not possible, and we provide structure for people
in times of chaos. We need not view this inevitable part of the
lifecycle as evil.

Case, Thomas W. “National Review,” Dying Made Easy. New York:
Neal Bernards, Inc. November 4, 1991, pp. 25c26.

Gorovitz, Samuel. Drawing the Line: Life, Death, and
Ethical Choices in an American Hospital New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991.

Simmons, Paul D. Birth an d Death: Bioethical Decision
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983.

Tong, Rosemarie. “Current,”Euthanasia in the 1990’s: Dying
“Good Death. New York: Harper Collins Publishing, March
1993, pp. 27c33.

Wickett, Ann. The Right To Die: Understanding Euthanasia.

New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1986.