Euthanasia is a controversial subject, not only because there are many differentmoral dilemmas associated with it, but also in what constitutes its definition.At the extreme ends of disagreement, advocates say euthanasia (which in Greekmeans "easy death") is a good, or merciful, death. Opponents ofeuthanasia say it is a fancy word for murder. Between the two extremes, thereare various positions for and against euthanasia. One position opposes cases of"active" euthanasia, where an active, or overt, effort is made tobring about death, such as in administering a lethal injection, but accept"passive" euthanasia, which is generally described as declining toinitiate extraordinary or even ordinary medical treatment, as moral. Anotherposition advocates that passive euthanasia is acceptable when the person to diehas consented. Other positions include situations where a terminally ill patientis unable to consent as justifiable, because it resolves a hopeless situation.Conversely, even with this gradation, some opponents to euthanasia believe thatvoluntary, passive euthanasia is the same as suicide; involuntary euthanasia isconsidered to be murder. Because euthanasia poses classic dilemmas as to itsmorality, it is not surprising that many issues arise in the legal and medicalarenas. In law, the resolution of a particular case cannot always be applied toresolve another. In the medical realm, interpretation of medical doctrineconcerning treatment of terminally-ill patients can result in entirely differentapplications. In two relatively recent cases, the Supreme Court had to decidethe future of patients that were considered to be in chronically persistentvegetative states. The courts had to decide whether to continue with theprevailing treatment, as advocated by the medical community, or discontinuetreatment at the request of the patients' guardians. The courts consideredseveral factors in making a determination: What are the state's interests interms of human life? When does the patient's right to refuse treatment overridethe state's interest? What does the right to refuse treatment entail, and is itincluded in the patient's right to privacy? Do a patient's guardians have theright to refuse treatment on behalf of a patient? What constitutes ordinary andextraordinary medical treatment? The court indicated that a patient's right torefuse treatment was an extension of the constitutionally-derived "right toprivacy" and, more importantly, permitted the assignment of those rights toQuinlan's guardians.Social Issues
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