Regulate and Reform Euthanasia


One of the landmark cases that involve euthanasia is that
of Karen Ann Quinlan. Quinlan, a twenty-one year old New Jersey
resident, overdosed on pills and alcohol in 1975. She was rushed
to the hospital where her physical condition gradually
deteriorated to a vegetative state. The doctors determined she
had no chance of recovery. Before the coma Karen said that if
anything ever happened that would leave her physically and
mentally incompetent, without any chance of recovery, she would
not want to be kept alive by "extraordinary medical procedures,"
notes Derek Humphry. Karen\'s parents sought religious counsel
from their priest. They were told that the Catholic religion
allows the removal of extraordinary care if the patient was in a
terminal condition. Karen\'s parents requested she be removed from
the respirator. The hospital denied their request. The Quinlans
then directed their request to the court. The superior court
denied their request. They took their request to the New Jersey
Supreme court where the decision was reversed. Karen was
removed from the respirator. To everyone\'s surprise, Karen began
breathing on her own and lived another ten years (Humphry 107).
The Quinlan case brought to the forefront patients\' desire
to die a proud, quiet death. It also brought to the forefront
the complications caused by the advancement of medical technology
("Euthanasia"27). Euthanasia has been practiced in Eastern and
Western culture since the beginning of civilization. The
capability of medical technology to extend life (as demonstrated
by the Quinlan case) has made the issue of euthanasia more
complicated. Individuals should be allowed to "die with dignity"
in the event of terminal illness if he or she wants it.
Terminating a patient\'s life is much more merciful than allowing
him or her to die a slow painful death from illness. Those who
oppose legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide say that this
could lead to involuntary killing of the aged and infirm. I
agree that there may be danger of abuse and that the vulnerable
need to be protected; therefore, I support passing legislation
that monitors and regulates physician assisted suicide. The
demand for legislation in support of legalized euthanasia for the
terminally ill has been an issue since the beginning of the
century. According to Derek Humphry in Ohio in 1906, a Bill
proposing to legalize euthanasia was presented to the Ohio
legislature. The bill was defeated by nearly 80% of those voting.
Opponents said the bill would have presented away for doctors to
cover up their mistakes. Opponents also say that the bill would
have provided a means for families to get rid of relatives who
were a nuisance and give fortune seekers a shortcut to
inheritance. Although the bill was defeated, the idea it
generated still lives on (Humphry 12).
Opponents of euthanasia often refer to the atrocities and
attitudes in Nazi Germany for reasons not to support euthanasia.
An article in the Progressive describes the essay "Permitting the
Destruction of Unworthy Life" written in Germany in 1920, by
Alfred Hoche. In the essay he proposes getting rid of the "\'dead
weight existence of incurables in Germany.\'" By "\'incurable\'" he
meant those who were mentally and emotionally disabled (Who 34).
When the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, as explained in
"Euthanasia and the Third Reich" an article in HISTORY TODAY,
they took Alfred Hoche\'s concept of euthanasia and used it to
rationalize sterilization of those with "hereditary" illnesses.
They also used the "euthanasia programme" to kill mentally and
physically handicapped children and adults. Eventually they used
this policy as justification for killing Jews, homosexuals, and
others (Burleigh 11). Many believe that this kind of murder can
happen again if euthanasia is legalized. However, the senseless,
atrocious killings in Germany cannot be compared to carefully
regulated policies that will allow euthanasia in selective cases.
Such an extreme comparison should not prevent a merciful
euthanasia policy for the terminally ill in unbearable pain who
request it. As people began forgetting World War II and the
atrocities of Nazi Germany, interest in "assisted suicide" and
euthanasia was restored. To understand the controversy of
euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must understand the
difference between the two terms. Euthanasia involves the
administering of the life taking measure; whereas, assisted
suicide provides the means or instructions to the patient who
intends to kill him or herself. Physicians who are used to saving
lives are being asked to end patients lives. The request for
"death with dignity" is very popular.
In a 1991 Gallop Poll, nearly 60 percent of those
interviewed said that a person has the "moral right" to end his
or her life when the person "has a disease that is incurable."
Sixty-five percent said "yes"