Euthanasia in Our Society Today

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Euthanasia is a controversial subject, not only because there are many different moral dilemmas associated with it, but also in what constitutes its definition. At the extreme ends of disagreement, advocates say euthanasia (which in Greek means "easy death") is a good, or merciful, death. Opponents of euthanasia say it is a fancy word for murder.

Between the two extremes, there are various positions for and against euthanasia. One position opposes cases of "active" euthanasia, where an active, or overt, effort is made to bring about death, such as in administering a lethal injection, but accept "passive" euthanasia, which is generally described as declining to initiate extraordinary or even ordinary medical treatment, as moral.

Another position advocates that passive euthanasia is acceptable when the person to die has consented. Other positions include situations where a terminally ill patient is unable to consent as justifiable, because it resolves a hopeless situation. Conversely, even with this gradation, some opponents to euthanasia believe that voluntary, passive euthanasia is the same as suicide; involuntary euthanasia is considered to be murder.

Because euthanasia poses classic dilemmas as to its morality, it is not surprising that many issues arise in the legal and medical arenas. In law, the resolution of a particular case cannot always be applied to resolve another. In the medical realm, interpretation of medical doctrine concerning treatment of terminally-ill patients can result in entirely different applications.

In two relatively recent cases, the Supreme Court had to decide the future of patients that were considered to be in chronically persistent vegetative states. The courts had to decide whether to continue with the prevailing treatment, as advocated by the medical community, or discontinue treatment at the request of the patients' guardians. The courts considered several factors in making a determination:...
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