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The Problem of Euthanasia

- Abstract

ALTHOUGH the death of close friends and relatives may have vanished as a vivid firsthand experience for most of us, almost everyone knows, or knows of, someone who is being kept alive by machines or tubes. It is quite common to hear people say that if they themselves should arrive at such a condition, they would hope for euthanasia. Thus, membership in the Euthanasia Society of America has jumped from 600 to over 50,000 in four years, and the society has been filling an unprecedented number of requests for copies of its “living will,” a declaration of the wish for euthanasia, which, although not legally binding, exerts a powerful demand on physician and family.

Euthanasia, from the Greek eu and thanatos, signifies a good or peaceful death. It conjures up images of dignity and repose, a calm, reconciled conclusion to a life whose meaning has been accorded its due. Euthanasia, often called “death with dignity,” also implies the necessary medical efforts to reduce pain without needlessly prolonging the agony of one who is going to die. Few in the past have been fortunate enough to die such a death, and not so many in the present.

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