Dr. Jack Kevorkian brought the issue to the national spotlight. The Terri Schiavo case forced us to reassess our own beliefs about what is right, medically speaking, and what is not. The controversial topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia is one that not only divides those who are directly affected, but anyone who has a moral, legal and even religious stance on the issues.
The difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia has to do with what happened in the patient’s last act. In assisted suicide, a physician can provide the means in which one would die, but ultimately, the patient performs the last act. Regarding euthanasia, a third party performs the last act at a patient’s request.
[leonard] In the state of Oregon, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium, physician-assisted suicide has been made legal, and in the latter two locations, euthanasia has as well.
Most professionals in the medical world agree that assisted suicide ought to be carefully thought out. “There are circumstances where assisted suicide should be a morally legitimate option,” Leonard M. Fleck, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and medical ethics, said.
“Physicians should explore alternative ways with medical and psychological problems with which people choose assisted suicide,” Fleck added.
So, is it crueler to remove the feeding tube on a patient who may be in a Permanent Vegetative State (PVS), as in Schiavo’s case, or to give an injection to die?
“Assisted suicides, in general, are not a bad thing, if a person wants it to be done,” Daniel Gibson, physiology freshman and member of the Undergraduate Bioethics Society, said.
Although it seems as if this problem could easily be solved, it is one that has been as controversial and nation-dividing as abortion. Whenever morals are added to the mix, it seems to stir the debate even more.
“Those who are deeply religious, who have a sort of ‘religiosity’, are more often opposed to assisted suicide, and other issues, like abortion,” Howard Brody, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the MSU Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, said.
The politics behind the concept are overwhelming. Abortion is a heavily debated topic between liberals and conservatives and so is assisted suicide and euthanasia. Making such a concept legal seems appropriate at times, but “we can’t be just one-sided, you have to look at both sides,” Gibson said.
However, it appears as if the legality of the issue may help to increase the safety of such a notion. “When you make it illegal, you drive it underground,” Brody said. “When it’s out in the open and legal, it could be regulated more so.”
The argument against the acceptance of assisted suicide is often the fear that such acts might be performed too frequently, too carelessly, and euthanasia could start being used as an excuse for killing another human being. “It could be used as a defense for homicides, with people saying that it was [assisted suicide],” Gibson said.
Both sides have their pertinent information, but in the end, the reality of the situation is that only one state out of 50 has made assisted suicide legal.
What do assisted suicide and euthanasia, then, have to do with the controversy surrounding the arguably overexposed Schiavo case?
[howard] The simple answer may be that both medical and ethical topics have been surrounded with disagreement, and are specific to a patient’s right to die. Assisted suicide helps an attentive patient die, to end pain caused from various illnesses, while the Schiavo case tried to decide whether or not she would want to die, since she could not choose herself.
The problem with the recent Florida case, though, is how much the government and media have infringed on a family’s fight. “The use and misuse of this case – it’s abhorrent, disingenuous, legally and politically dubious at best; it’s grossly inconsistent,” Fleck said.
“Who are the rest of these people to tell us what we should do?” Brody said. “What’s happened already is an outrage.”
If a person wants to die, and suffers from an illness that is ultimately terminal, shouldn’t they have the right to end a life in which they aren’t happy? But with the government becoming increasingly involved in many aspects of our lives, it seems unlikely that they will back down from an issue like this.
All of this information seems a thousand miles away when trying to relate it to life as an MSU student. If you’re young and healthy, it’s hard to grasp concepts like assisted suicide and euthanasia since it doesn’t affect the majority of us yet. Since “it’s not very likely that 20-somethings will write [a living will] down,” Brody said, we should try to counteract what is presupposed about our generation and be prepared for the possibilities.
Ultimately, assisted suicide is a matter concerning the patient, and only the patient. To intervene mainly because one doesn’t believe in the concept does not justify it. But, having an opinion on the subject is important in case you have to one day make a choice about your own last wishes.
For more information regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia, visit www.euthanasia.com, and make up your own mind about these significant issues.

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