Euthanasia Debate

History and Debate of Euthanasia

Euthanasia is defined as the practice of ending a life prematurely in order to end pain and suffering. The process is also sometimes called Mercy Killing. Euthanasia can fall into several categories. Voluntary Euthanasia is carried out with the permission of the person whose life is taken. Involuntary euthanasia is carried out without permission, such as in the case of a criminal execution. The moral and social questions surrounding these practices are the most active fields of research in Bioethics today. Many Supreme Court cases, such as Gonzales v. Oregon and Baxter vs. Montana, also surround this issue.

Voluntary euthanasia is typically performed when a person is suffering from a terminal illness and is in great pain. When the patient performs this procedure with the help of a doctor, the term assisted suicide is often used. This practice is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. It is also legal in the state of Oregon, Washington and Montana. Passive euthanasia is carried out by terminating a medication that is keeping a patient alive or not performing a life-saving procedure. Active euthanasia involves the administration of a lethal drug or otherwise actively ending the life. These two types of procedures carry different moral and social issues.

Euthanasia Debate Controversy

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of euthanasia and whether or not it should be legal. From a legal standpoint, the Encyclopedia of American Law categorizes mercy killing as a class of criminal homicide. Judicially, not all homicide is illegal. Killing is seen as excusable when used as a criminal punishment, but inexcusable when carried out for any other reason. In most nations, euthanasia is considered criminal homicide: however, in the jurisdictions mentioned above, it is placed on the other side of the table with criminal punishment.

Arguments regarding the euthanasia debate often depend on the method used to take the life of the patient. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act made it legal for residents to request a lethal injection from a doctor. This is seen in other jurisdictions as being a criminal form of homicide. However, passive euthanasia through denial of drugs or procedures is considered to be legal in almost all jurisdictions. Those who argue for euthanasia feel that there is no difference. Those who are against it disagree.

Euthanasia and Religion

Many arguments also hinge on religious beliefs. Many Christians believe that taking a life, for any reason, is interfering with God's plan and is comparable to murder. The most conservative of Christians are against even passive euthanasia. Some religious people do take the other side of the argument and believe that the drugs to end suffering early are God-given and should be used.

One of the main groups of people who are involved with the euthanasia debate is physicians. One survey in the United States recorded the opinions of over 10,000 medical doctors and found that sixteen percent would consider stopping a life-maintaining therapy at the recommendation of family or the patient. Fifty five percent would never do such. The study also found that 46 percent of doctors believe that physician assisted suicide should be allowed in some cases.

The controversy surrounding euthanasia involves many aspects of religion, medical and social sciences. As this is one of the most studied fields of bioethics, one can rest assured that more studies will be performed to learn more about this issue and how to best address it.

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