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
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