Do We Have The
Right To Die?
In October of 1939, Louis Repouille chloroformed his thirteen-year-old son described as "an incurable imbecile." The boy was deformed and mute since birth and therefor bedridden. Due to a brain tumor, he became blind. Two months afterward, the father was found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree. No man or woman can honestly say that this boy should have stayed alive to suffer inevitably or that his father should have sanely watched him. Euthanasia is the right for any human being who is terminally ill to find the means to end his or her life. Mentally stable adults, who are deathly ill, have a right to die.
Euthanasia has been practiced throughout time and in many cultures. When an elderly Aymara Indian of Bolivia becomes terminally ill, relatives and friends are summoned to the home of the death vigil. The family will withhold food and drink until the dying person slips into unconsciousness and dies. In Eskimo cultures, an old or sick Eskimo tells his family when he is ready to die and the family will immediately comply by abandoning the aged person to the ravages of nature or by killing him themselves. Aged Ethiopians allowed themselves to be tied to wild bulls. The natives of Amboyna, ate their failing relatives out of charity. Congolese jumped on the tired and old until their life was gone. In Athens, magistrates kept a supply of poison for anyone who wished to die. Aiding death was often done out of respect for an ill person. (Humphrey, 2)
In Christianity, on the other hand, suicide was denounced. Anyone who took his or her own life was denied a Christian burial. With a reaffirmation of Greek and Roman values, the concept of an easy death gradually came to be regarded once again. What distinguished the sixteenth century attitude toward suicide from that of the Middle Ages was a reawakened interest in individualism. (Humphrey, 8)
During the eighteenth century, Paradys, a physician, wrote "Oratio de Euthanasia." He recommended an "easy death" for a patient who is incurable and suffering. In 1777, a year after his death, David Hume's essay, "Of Suicide" was published. He wrote, "when life has become a burden both courage and prudence should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence." Schopenhaur stressed man's assailable title to his own life and person. "It will be generally found that, as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life." (Humphrey, 11) It was believed that incurable pain overwhelmed man and death was indeed a merciful release and suicide a laudable act.
In 1911, the Laforgue family committed suicide. In a written statement, the husband pointed out that he has orchestrated his own death "before pitiless old age which is taking from me one of the pleasures and joys of existence, and depriving me of my intellectual strength, paralyzed my energy, breaks my life and makes me a burden to myself and others. Years ago, I promised myself not to live beyond seventy." (Humphrey, 12)
In 1938, in New York, a grand jury refused to indict Harry Johnson for asphyxiating his wife who had been repeatedly quoted saying she wanted to die. He was charged with first-degree murder. Quadriplegic Elizabeth Bouvia was refused permission to starve to death in a hospital. William Bartling pleaded with the world and the courts to be taken off of his respirator. He died while fighting for his right to die. Clair Connroys family won the watershed right to disconnect her from the artificial feeding, setting a precedent that pleased some and dismayed others. In Raleigh Fitkin-Paul Morgan Memorial Hospital versus Anderson, a woman refused treatment for religious reasons during her eighth month of pregnancy. The Supreme Court of New Jersey ordered a transfusion since the welfare of the baby and mother is inseparable. In John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital...
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