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Euthanasia, which means "good" or "peaceful" death, has been practiced through theages. Doctors have always been dedicated to the task of easing pain and suffering, to makedying easier. Adding the adjective "active" alters the meaning of euthanasia. The emphasis shiftsfrom comforting the dying to inducing death. The practice of voluntary euthanasia and assistedsuicide would cause society to devalue all life, especially the lives of the dying, the disabled, andthe elderly. We should not understate the agonies involved in chronic pain and suffering. Nobodywants to see a loved one suffer or make the decisions that accompany medical science's abilityto prolong life. The same technology that keeps people alive today raise a host of questionsconcerning the nature and destiny of man himself. Comforting the dying is still preferable toassisting in their death. There are many reasons why, but the main one has to do with how much we valuehuman life. God views all human life as sacred. He created us in his own image (Genesis1:26,27), and it is he who has determined our days on earth (Job 14:5). God confirms his greatlove for his people, a love that does not cease when we are old or ill. His command that we notkill one another does not change when we are brain damaged or comatose. Our society,however, teaches certain classes of people that they are not wanted. If a physician's aid in dying were to become a standard part of terminal care, there isalways that possibility that patients might feel the need to request death out of fear of becoming aburden to their families. The right to die could be interpreted by a patient as the duty to die. Chronically ill or dying patients may be pressured to choose euthanasia to spare their familiesfinancial or emotional strain. Joan Farah states in the New England Journal of Medicine that theelderly are often cited as being vulnerable. If Euthanasia becomes the law
of the land, how long will it take before the elderly and sick begin to feel an obligation to get outof the way? There are many complicated ethical and medical issues involved in the discussion ofeuthanasia. The decisions that family members must make are often as painful as the conditionsof their loved ones. Sometimes the families react with wisdom and compassion. However, under stress human beings can make the wrong decisions. In an attempt to avoid such risk wedare not enact legislature that will allow murder simply to make decisions easier. Opponents contend that legalized euthanasia would force medical professionals andpatients' families to judge the worth of others' lives. Once a vulnerable group is denied a basicright to life, it is only a matter of time until other groups are placed in the same category. Wehave accepted the killing of unborn children, allowed children born with severe handicaps to die,and have ignored "mercy killing" of consenting adults. Will we tolerate or accept euthanasia justas we do abortion? There are no easy answers when a loved one faces death. Scientists must continue toseek answers and cures. Active euthanasia does not provide answers: it only tries to avoid thehardest questions. Thomas Beauchamp, a bioethicist of Georgetown University has written,rules against killing "are not isolated moral principles," but "pieces of a web of rules" that forms amoral code. "The more threads one removes the weaker the fabric becomes." Allowingourselves the liberty of choosing the time and place of death will not lessen our sense of loss. Itcan only erode the wonder of human life and the worth of each individual.
Wekesser, Carol, ed. Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1995.
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